Quincy Massachusetts a Model for the “Big Apple”?


Snow removal in Quincy, January 2011 (Craig Goedecke/For The Patriot Ledger)

In light of the climatological and financial winter we are experiencing here and across the country – one of the editorials in yesterday’s New York Times was intriguing. It appears  in the eyes of the NYT editorial writer – that the city of Quincy, Massachusetts has a pay-for-snow-removal approach that might help the City of New York. For a portion of its snow removal needs – Quincy by contratct pays plow operators – not by the hour – but by the snowfall inch. With all due credit to the NYT’s editorial writer – here’s the full text:

The drama of urban snow removal has preoccupied this newspaper for 150 years. In 1910, The Times wrote about no-show contractors failing to get men and wagons onto the streets after a storm that buried New York City and snarled the Long Island Rail Road. In 2010, we — and pretty much everyone in the city — criticized a no-show mayor who left town before a storm that buried the city and snarled the Long Island Rail Road.

So we were intrigued by a report that Quincy, Mass., has found a way to get rid of snow more efficiently and more cheaply. Last year, it decided to pay contractors not by the hour but by the inch to remove snow in about one-fourth of the city. A storm of up to 2 inches cost $8,455 per ward, rising as the drifts got deeper, up to $42,500 per ward for storms of 14 inches to 18 inches. Above that, the rate fell sharply. This means companies take a gamble when bidding on a contract, and Quincy is unlikely to be bankrupted by a monster storm.

Exact savings are difficult to calculate because snowfalls vary from year to year, but pay-per-inch seems to be costing about 5 percent to 10 percent less, Quincy officials say. It worked so well last year that the city has now doubled the size of the program.

At a time when governments are gutting or abandoning essential services, the search for efficiency through innovation is encouraging. Not that every new idea is new. More than a century before December’s fiasco in Queens and Brooklyn, New York City seemed to have snow figured out. It paid contractors by volume. In January 1905, the rate was 16 cents a cubic yard.

Back then a reporter for The Times marveled at how well it went. “Hardly, in fact, had the white, fluffy bees ceased swarming on Wednesday when the Bureau of Snow Removal began its work,” enlisting more than 8,000 men to clear 2 million cubic feet from 186 miles of streets in 12 hours. The commissioner of street cleaning was so satisfied that he even bought workers coffee and sandwiches, paying out of his own pocket.

From the New York Times “The Opinion Pages” here.