Get On the Bus

Why does Philadelphia need 6,000 city-owned vehicles? Our man went looking for answers (on foot)

A FUNNY THING happened this past fall at nearly every town hall meeting Mayor Michael Nutter hosted to explain his plan for saving the city a billion dollars: Someone asked about city cars. Blame some of that on City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, whom Fox 29 caught behind the wheel of her black 2008 Ford Escape, dropping off her daughter and a friend at their private school in the ’burbs.
What’s a little detour on us? At least she’s driving an American car. Things could be worse, right? It’s not like back in 1986, when Council president Joe Coleman ordered a tricked-out $26,990 van for use as an office on wheels, but wouldn’t let any other Council members touch it. Or during the Green administration, when record-keeping of which official drove which car was so chaotic that there was a city-car cattle call at the Vet to sort it all out.
Yet folks at those town meetings were furious about the 6,111 vehicles the city owns — and rightly so.
The city could save a lot of money each year by kicking its car addiction. Fleet management costs $50 million annually, with another $13 million for new vehicle purchases. Police, fire and utilities account for roughly two-thirds of the fleet; that leaves about 2,000 vehicles whose drivers would be paying for their own gas, oil changes and insurance if they had jobs with anyone other than the City of Philadelphia. We’re not asking for favors here — more like a long-overdue perk-elimination program. So I headed downtown to ask all our Council members if they’d get this plan rolling by giving up their city cars and doing something crazy. Like taking a friggin’ bus.


MY CITY COUNCIL tour began in the third-floor office of Donna Reed Miller (Ford Crown Victoria; purchase price $25,009), who wasn’t available.
“She’s finishing a sandwich,” an aide told me. “Then she has another appointment.” Hope she’s not driving there while polishing off her turkey club. Based on last year’s figures, the city would save $45,428 in gas and repairs if Council’s 17 cars were taken away, not to mention what it could earn back on the $431,539 it paid to purchase them.
“She lives up in Germantown, so she probably wouldn’t take public transportation,” the aide said. “That’s about five miles away.”
The next stop was Wilson Goode Jr.’s office. The Councilman wasn’t in, but his senior aide, Latrice Bryant, was. Yes, that Latrice Bryant — she of the questionable timesheets and Jamaican vacation with her boss and “Fox 29 are racist” protest signs. It was like going to the DMV and running into Bigfoot, but with tight designer jeans, much better hair and a $90,000 city salary. Bryant flashed her knockout smile and pointed out that Goode doesn’t drive a city car at all. If he needs a car, he uses his own vehicle. But when Council members or their staff need a vehicle, they are able to use a car from the city vehicle pool, our own internal carshare. Curiously, the city also has a contract with Zipcar to provide access to its fleet of carshare vehicles. Why pay to purchase, maintain, fuel and insure our own carpool when there’s a company that already does all that for us? If Bryant knows the answer, that minx of a sphinx wasn’t talking.