Get On the Bus

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

At least Donatucci is actually doing some traveling, even if it’s just 16 blocks up Market Street. Traffic Court has nine cars, none of which are used to give you a lift to your hearing when the Parking Authority mistakenly tows your car. The courts have nearly 100 cars altogether, which cost the city $242,825 in gas and repairs in 2008.
So are the winds of change really sweeping through city government? Funny you should ask. Got a call from the Beyoncé of City Council — fabulous, needs only one name for identification, sometimes speaks in the third person. That’s Blondell. “I often say I work seven days a week,” she told me. “Whether we’re at the office or dropping off a child at school, we’re always on duty.”     
Well, since you mention it, did getting caught on camera lead you to rethink the use of your city car?
“I’ll want to think about that answer,” she said, pausing. “It’s a tool for us to do our jobs. One vehicle for Blondell Reynolds Brown and her staff to take care of business. Am I interested in doing it in a more efficient, responsible way? Absolutely.”    
For the record, weeks after Reynolds Brown’s TV news exposé, a review board met to discuss her taxi service for her daughter and her friends. The vote was unanimous. Blondell and the Mayor’s press secretary were both granted waivers to take their kids to school.

IN SEPTEMBER, MANAGING director Camille Barnett announced that the city was reducing the number of take-home cars from 650 to 450, and that an additional 200 to 500 vehicles would be sold or reassigned, at an annual savings of up to $2.3 million. What wasn’t clear is the fact that the 200 take-home cars won’t be auctioned off; they’re still in use by city workers. So while the city saves $200,000 in gas, it will still pay to maintain, insure and fuel those cars for business use. Shouldn’t the fleet be reduced to essential vehicles only? Barnett wouldn’t go that far. “The fleet could go lower,” she said. “But we’re trying to reform the way we do business, so we’re not making incremental change at the margins.” Meaning Barnett is far more concerned with converting the city to electronic and online files, and teleconferences that would reduce the need for driving to meetings at all.
Barnett’s point about a continued focus on the big picture is a good one. But as those dark economic clouds continue to hover over City Hall, this administration needs to save money wherever it can. It’s nickel-and-dime time, folks. If we wait until Philadelphia becomes a paperless government, City Council might be asking for jetpacks, or comped trips to the moon.