Posted: May 19th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Followed By A Perplexed Stroke Of The Chin
Major oil companies use secret mathematical formulas to figure out the varying price of gas from one city to city — even as specific as one neighborhood to another.
Gas stations owned by large oil companies, such as ExxonMobil, determine the cost of gas by creating “geographic pricing zones” based on competition from nearby pumps, traffic patterns and the makeup of the local population.
Oil companies claim they use the formulas to confine competition to the smallest possible area in order to maximize prices at each outlet.
But independently owned stations set their prices based on the owner’s assessment — factoring in how much it costs to buy the gas from a distributor and the price of his nearest competitors.
. . .
The cost of crude itself accounts for about half the retail price at the pump. The rest of the cost is for refining, shipping, taxes and the cost of running the station.
But why does gas cost so much in Manhattan compared to Staten Island?
“There are fewer gas stations in Manhattan,” [New York State Petroleum Council lobbyist Cathy] Kenny said. “And there’s even fewer of them since owners figured out that selling the land is a lot more profitable than selling gas.”
This past weekend, the priciest place to get gas in the city was at a Shell station in Brooklyn and an Exxon station on Staten Island, both of which were charging $4.25, according to newyorkgasprices.com.
The man in the Mister Softee truck stuck his head out the window and glared at the fellow in the white cap and black bow tie.
The guy in the bow tie grimaced back as he rang the bell on his Good Humor truck, whose bumper sat inches from Mister Softee’s.
“Ching ching ching.”
“This is open turf,” said Jose Martinez, 52, the Good Humor man, yanking at the bell.
Summer is more than a month away, but the ice cream wars have already begun. In neighborhoods across the city, skirmishes are breaking out over which franchise can sell its wares on which route. And the tension between the city’s purveyors of ice-cold treats can at times be thicker than a Chipwich.
There have been harsh words, hurt feelings and even bloodshed between competitors. In 2004, a couple in their 60s who owned and operated two ice cream trucks were ambushed in the Bronx and beaten with an oversized wrench. The motive, the police said, was the couple’s ice cream route. A rival ice cream salesman was charged with assault and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
While disputes between drivers of ice cream trucks rarely become that violent, they can be cutthroat.
(That last line is the mixed metaphor of the day.)
This could only mean one thing — the return of the Good Humor man, which some don’t find funny:
Blatant Localism, Consumer Issues, Things That Make You Go "Oy"
On Tuesday afternoon, new battle lines were drawn on the Upper West Side at the corner of Columbus Avenue and 83rd Street, where Ceasar Ruiz, 50, the Mister Softee man, said he had been selling ice cream without any competition for more than eight years.
He said his routine was the same every season. He arrives at the corner by about 2:30 each afternoon, mostly to catch the students getting out of Public School 9 and the Anderson School, just a few yards from the corner. He stays for about an hour and a half, then moves to his next location, he said.
But Tuesday afternoon was different. When he arrived, there sat the freshly painted Good Humor truck and Mr. Martinez, decked out in a crisp uniform, ringing his bell.
“I sell Good Humor, too,” Mr. Ruiz said. “But his is more cheap. I sell bar for $2. He might sell for $1.50. Not good. Not good.”
. . .
Good Humor trucks all but disappeared from the New York streets 30 years ago. In 1977, the Good Humor company shut down its street vendor operation, opting for supermarket freezers, said Robert Pinnisi, who helped restore Mr. Martinez’s truck. But the company gave drivers the option of being independent contractors. Mr. Pinnisi said he knew of only one other Good Humor truck operating in New York City, and one in Mount Vernon.
Perfect Time To Release Those Commemorative Stamps Celebrating The 119th Anniversary Of Washington Statehood
Posted: May 10th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Grrr!, Staten Island
Don’t disregard the extra pennies you find laying around the house or car — you might need them Monday.
That’s when the price of mailing a first-class letter increases 1 cent, to 42 cents, along with a number of other postal rate hikes that take effect.
But there is a way to avoid paying more to mail a letter.
Forever stamps, which can be used after the hike, can still be bought at the old 41-cent price. But the cost of the Forever stamp will also increase Monday, to 42 cents.
Those still having unused 41-cent stamps will be able to purchase a new 1-cent stamp — the Tiffany Lamp — to make up the difference. Several new 42-cent stamps are also available.
The passage of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act in 2006 allows the Postal Service to increase its rates every May in accordance with the rate of inflation as indicated in the Consumer Price Index.
A continuing decline in the number of neighborhood supermarkets has made it harder for millions of New Yorkers to find fresh and affordable food within walking distance of their homes, according to a recent city study. The dearth of nearby supermarkets is most severe in minority and poor neighborhoods already beset by obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
According to the food workers union, only 550 decently sized supermarkets — each occupying at least 10,000 square feet — remain in the city.
In one corner of southeast Queens, four supermarkets have closed in the last two years. Over a similar period in East Harlem, six small supermarkets have closed, and two more are on the brink, local officials said. In some cases, the old storefronts have been converted to drug stores that stand to make money coming and going — first selling processed foods and sodas, then selling medicines for illnesses that could have been prevented by a better diet.
The supermarket closings — not confined to poor neighborhoods — result from rising rents and slim profit margins, among other causes. They have forced residents to take buses or cabs to the closest supermarkets in some areas. Those with cars can drive, but the price of gasoline is making some think twice about that option. In many places, residents said the lack of competition has led to rising prices in the remaining stores.
*Right after we figure out how to supply high-speed internet connections and computers to all.Posted: May 5th, 2008 | Filed under: Citywide, Consumer Issues
But what is perverse is that people who can afford not to spend half their income on rent are probably doing so, too:
Posted: April 30th, 2008 | Filed under: Citywide, Consumer Issues, Grrr!, Real Estate
Arnold Somrah was spending almost half of his income on the Park Slope apartment he shared with a friend. The 24-year-old finally moved back into his parents’ Ozone Park home.
“You can’t go out. Your Friday and Saturday nights are done,” said Somrah, who was paying $750 a month for his basement room. Samrah is now saving to eventually buy in Florida. “It’s too expensive here.”
Nearly 530,000 renters in the city are spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing, a 14.9 percent jump from 1999, according to data released yesterday by Rep. Anthony Weiner.
“Financial advisors say, ‘You should spend no more than a third of your income on rent'” said Weiner. “That’s sounding more and more like a pipe dream.”
The Bronx is feeling the burden the most, with 32.85 percent of its renters paying half their income on rent in 2006. Manhattan (22.32 percent) had the lowest.
NYU raises its tuition beyond the cost of inflation, giving new meaning to the concept of “Ivy League or equivalent”:
Posted: April 27th, 2008 | Filed under: Class War, Consumer Issues
Already one of the most expensive schools in the country, NYU plans to boost tuition another 5.9 percent starting with the next academic year.
That translates into a $2,081 increase over this year’s tuition of $35,283, according to the financial aid department.
Students are outraged.
“It’s definitely putting a damper in my parents’ pocket,” said Emmanuella Durandisse, a 19-year-old freshman from Nyack. “I’m definitely mad. Maybe the teachers are overpaid.”
The school’s president, John Sexton, blamed the hike on the size of the college’s endowment.
“Many colleges and universities against which we compete to attract faculty and students have endowment resources per student many times larger,” he wrote in an e-mail to the faculty.
The school is not insensitive to the financial strain. It plans a 12 percent financial aid boost for the neediest students.
But that’s still not as much help as other private colleges, such as Harvard, are giving out. The Ivy League school plans to actually cut tuition for low-income students.
“We are not in a position to match these institutions, as much as we might wish that all endowments are created equal,” Sexton wrote.
The cost of NYU certainly puts it in league with Ivy-level tuition. Columbia University charges students $35,516, while Harvard charges $31,456.
Both Ivy schools also plan to hike tuition next year, Columbia by 3 to 5 percent and Harvard by 3.5 percent.
Posted: March 27th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Things That Make You Go "Oy"
Horace Mann School, the $29,000-a-year preparatory school in the Bronx, and dozens more New York educational and cultural institutions just got stuck between the collapse of auctionrate bonds and an expired New York law.
Rates on $60 million of the securities sold by Horace Mann in 2002 rose to 5.4%last month from 3.4%. At nearby Riverdale Country School, where tuition is $35,250 for grades six through 12, interest jumped to 11% from 3%. Interest costs almost doubled for borrowers in the $330 billion auction-rate bond market this year after banks stopped buying unwanted securities for the first time since they were created in the 1980s. Unlike local governments across the country, the New York institutions can’t convert the bonds into other types of debt after a state funding law expired January 31.
. . .
More than 800 YMCAs, libraries, hospitals, universities and prep schools in the state sold socalled civic-facility bonds, including auction-rate debt, through industrial development authorities, according to the Albany-based New York State Economic Development Council.
Auction rates for some of these borrowers have risen as much as fourfold.
. . .
Civic groups in New York lost their ability to borrow using development agencies as state lawmakers battled over rewriting the law that governs industrial authorities. Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo, a chairman of the local governments committee, refused to extend debt-issuing authority.
The Hippocratic Oath Of Food Service: Jack Up Prices For Stuff Like Alcohol And Dessert, Not Sprite And Coffee
Restauranteurs, although it may seem strange that you can charge someone $8 for a beer and no one will flinch but try to get $5 for a soda and people get all in a snit, trust me, it’s not worth it:
Posted: March 21st, 2008 | Filed under: Brooklyn, Consumer Issues, Feed
They don’t call it “The Five Spot” for nothing — because this otherwise reasonably priced Myrtle Avenue soul-food restaurant is now charging $5 for a soda.
Yes, $5 for a large Sprite, Coke or root beer — the same price as about a gallon and a half of gas; two and a half shares of Bear Stearns or a Barnes and Noble classic copy of “Macbeth.”
That’s also 50 cents more than a Coke will cost you at The River Café, one of the most-expensive restaurants in Brooklyn.
So was Kate Myers, who dined with her husband and 5-year-old son at the Five Spot on Sunday, March 9.
The family walked into the restaurant, at Washington Avenue, at about 3:30 pm, and ordered two notably reasonably priced entrees: the Clinton Hill Crispy Chicken Fingers ($6.90), and the Five Spot Fish N Chips ($7.95).
And they ordered three drinks: one vodka tonic ($8), one Brooklyn Lager ($8), and a Sprite for little Joe ($5).
Lest you think the high price for soft drinks stems from a bottomless mug, think again. There are no refills — which Myers discovered when she ordered her son a second soda.
“The bill came and we saw there were $10 worth of Sprites,” said Myers, still in disbelief. “If it had been $3, I would have thought it was too much. I travel a lot for my job, and for room service, I don’t pay ever $5.”
New economic indicator — the cost of doing business in Manhattan outstrips fast-food value meals:
Posted: March 5th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues
Luan Sadik and his sister, Elizabeth Sadik, charge in court papers that [Burger Kings’s] 99-cent menu and the more recent dollar value menu were forced down their throats.
They said they were required to sell food at “rock-bottom prices” that didn’t keep pace with the escalating cost of rent and other expenses in pricey Manhattan.
Burger King sued the Sadiks in federal court in Florida last year after the Albanian immigrants closed the doors at two restaurants without the company’s permission.
Then six weeks ago, Burger King shuttered the Sadiks’ remaining fast-food restaurants at 485 Fifth Ave. and 129 E. 47th St. for breaching their franchise contract. The Sadiks have responded with a suit of their own in Brooklyn Federal Court.
“The essence of our complaint is that greed is dictating [Burger King’s] decision-making, not fairness,” said lawyer Oliver Griffith, who represents the Sadiks.
Griffith summed up his clients’ plight this way: If a Whopper hamburger costs $3.50 in Manhattan and a customer can buy two Whopper Juniors for $2 with a value meal, the restaurant operator eats the $1.50 difference.
Their monthly rent at the Fifth Ave. restaurant was $9,000 and $18,000 at the E. 47th St. location. The company also collects a royalty based on gross monthly sales.
“The value meal may be a wonderful thing, but with the cost of doing business in a market like Manhattan, the franchise cannot sustain itself,” Griffith said.
Consumer Issues, Grrr!
On its first business day, the MTA’s fare hike yesterday baffled mass-transit travelers — who had conniptions over the higher costs — as discounts dropped from 20 percent to 15 percent on MetroCards.
“I was kind of confused. I didn’t read the question right,” said Alana Chitty, 21, who mistakenly bought a $20 card from a Grand Central Terminal vending machine when she only wanted a $7 card.
“I put $20 and got no change back,” she said. “I’m pissed. I want my money.”
The clerk at the nearby booth would not refund her money.
So Chitty, from Rye, was stuck with a $20 card that will leave her with a $3 bonus credit on the card. If she refills it for another $20, then she will have three “free” rides.
Had she got the $7 card she sought, she would have four rides because it comes with a $1.05 bonus — enough to pay for the fourth ride with a useless 5 cents left over.
She wasn’t the only one ticked off by the new transit tabulations.
“I was very annoyed that I didn’t get an extra round trip with my $10 card. Now I [have] $11.50 and I’m sure bits of money will be left on the card I won’t use,” said David Buckley, 48, an executive recruiter from Maplewood, NJ, at the Rockefeller Center station.
Another rider, Garian Giscombe, 25, felt the same about the $10 cards that used to provide one free ride.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do with the $1.50 bonus,” he said.
Even as the economy cools, there will always be a market for irrational sentimentalism:
Posted: March 4th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Sports, Things That Make You Go "Oy"
Only New York fans with some luck and deep pockets will have a shot of scoring a ticket to the last regular season games ever at Yankee and Shea stadiums this fall.
Scalpers online are asking for nearly $6,000 for the Mets final Shea game on Sept. 28, while tickets have been seen as high as a whopping $17,000 for the Yanks Sept. 21 match-up against the Orioles. And if you want to see the first All-Star game this summer at Yankee Stadium since 1977, it’ll take $25,000 to snag one ticket on the field championship level.
“Since the game went on sale and sold out (on Feb. 20) the demand is insane,” said Moe Schlachter, who’s asking for at least $3,800 for his pair of championship box seats. He said that since posting his Yankees tickets on Craigslist last week, he has already gotten 20 to 30 responses.
The 22-year-old student guessed that if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs — ensuring that the Sept. 21 game would indeed be the last at the House that Ruth Built — the prices to resell tickets could quadruple.
Face-value field championship box seats at the stadium range from $240 to $380.
While the Yankees finale sold out in 11 minutes, Mets fans can still swipe a ticket for the Sept. 28 home game against the Marlins through special packages. The most expensive seat being offered for either game was from a bold stubhub.com hawker asking $16,791 each for his Tier Box MVP seats, which normally go for about $70. Since last year, ticket scalping in New York has been legal.
Things that make me never ever want to eat oysters again include . . . this, for example:
Posted: February 24th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Feed
Hendrix Creek, flowing for just over a mile in Brooklyn through East New York, passes under the Belt Parkway and between two dormant landfills before it empties into Jamaica Bay. The creek, once fed by a natural stream, now starts at the output pipe of a wastewater treatment plant.
It is the perfect kind of place, said John K. McLaughlin, an ecologist for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, for an experimental project that would establish oyster beds, not for harvest, but as living water filters.
. . .
Even if the initial change in water quality is not significant, he said, the creation of a self-sustaining habitat in Jamaica Bay — where oysters and other species can survive and spread — would be an achievement. That process, Mr. McLaughlin said, would be the first step to restoring something close to the bay’s original ecosystem.
But if the Hendrix Creek oysters thrive, the city may well face another challenge: keeping away adventuresome gourmands who might be tempted to help themselves to the delicacies.
“There’s a worry that if you have oysters that sell for a dollar apiece, people will steal them and sell them,” [Gaia Institute executive director Paul] Mankiewicz said. “We want them for habitat, not edibility.”
The market for fruit is cutthroat and possibly dangerous, resembling something you might see on The Wire:
Posted: February 24th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues
Perhaps more than any other civic rivals, street vendors and brick-and-mortar stores seem to play a zero-sum game. The stores are wary of the vendors, whom they see as nimble nuisances undercutting their prices, unfettered by regulation or rent. The vendors see the stores as competition-hating Goliaths.
The city stepped briskly into the fray in December, when it proposed licensing a fleet of fruit and vegetable carts to operate in poor neighborhoods where people were eating little fresh produce.
Reaction was swift and noisy.
Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for small retailers, said the proposal, known as the Green Carts bill, would “cannibalize existing business.”
. . .
Kangchul Park, director of the Korean Produce Association, acknowledged that few Korean grocers were in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, two areas that would be affected by the legislation. But he predicted that licensed vendors would stray into forbidden areas with a higher demand for fruit. “Eventually,” Mr. Park said, “they’ll find out the reason why there are no grocery stores where they are. And sooner or later, they’ll be tempted to move to where there are other grocery stores.”
Posted: February 13th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Jerk Move
More New Yorkers have come forward with stories of cabbies-gone-crazy when they tried to pay their fare with a credit card.
Sarah Snedeker, 24, says a driver locked her in a cab in Manhattan and spit in her face.
When his maniac driver refused to use plastic, Michael Blumenthal, 28, says he ended up running away from him through a Queens alleyway.
. . .
Snedeker and Blumenthal said they asked the drivers if they could pay with a credit card before hopping into the cab.
Snedeker wound up in a 5-minute argument when her driver suddenly said the credit card machine was broken as they sat outside her upper West Side apartment on Jan. 24. The driver locked the doors when she went to get out, trapping her “for what seemed like forever,” she said.
“He . . . put his face into the plexiglass separation, the section that is left open, and screamed ‘You f—— b—-!’ and spit at me, which I could feel spray all over my face,” she said. “I screamed the loudest I have ever screamed in my life: ‘Let me out of this cab!'”
Snedeker said she yanked on the door handle repeatedly as the cab idled on W. 89th St.
“Then, out of nowhere a man banged on the cab driver’s window and forced him to let me out,” she said. “It was horrifying.”
. . .
[Blumenthal’s] ride turned hellish about three blocks from his Queens home when the cabbie also switched his story, saying the credit card machine was broken.
After the cabbie threatened to drive Blumenthal back to Manhattan, the account executive said he attempted to get out of the car, opening the door at two red lights. Each time, the cabbie hit the gas. He finally got out of the cab at a red light at Crescent St. and 41st Ave. in Long Island City on Jan. 17.
“He then jumps out to come after me and I start to run,” Blumenthal said. “He ran back to his cab and threw it in reverse. I run into an alley and he stops to go in after me with the car.”
Blumenthal said the cabbie couldn’t catch him because the taxi got stuck behind a street-cleaning truck.
Seafood restaurants around town have felt the fallout since the Times reported that tuna from even Manhattan’s high-end sushi purveyors contains dangerous levels of mercury. (“All of a sudden, our business has fallen down 20 to 30 percent,” says Japonica owner Shingo Yonezawa. “It’s a nightmare. There’s a lot you can eat at sushi restaurants other than tuna.”) But one business is booming: mercury detox. “Not only did we get a rush of new patients, but our current patients asked to be rechecked,” says Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, who offers the treatment. Patients sit in armchairs while the chemical DMPS drips from an IV into their bloodstream to help draw out mercury. “Not all patients need IV,” Morrison says. “Some people can do oral chelation. Saunas work, too, but you have to take about five of them a week.”
Then again, you could just read the Jack Shafer rebuttal, stroll on down to Nobu and forget about it . . .Posted: February 4th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Feed
Posted: February 2nd, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Jerk Move, You're Kidding, Right?
There have been a number of reports of cab drivers balking at customers who try to pay with credit cards, but a woman is accusing a cabbie of actually punching her after she tried to charge a ride.
Tamara Perez tells CBS 2 HD she still can’t believe it happened.
The incident happened Tuesday after Perez ran to her East Village home to pick up some papers. Once in the cab, the 35-year-old realized she had no cash the pay the $10 fare. Instead, she pulled out a credit card, but the cabbie wasn’t having it.
“He wouldn’t let me use the card, he wouldn’t press the button,” she tells CBS 2. “I said, ‘You have to press the button,’ and he’s like, ‘No, no I don’t know, I don’t know how to use it.'”
Perez says the driver got out of the cab and told her to go get cash. She refused, said she wanted to use the machine and would tip well.
“I tried to walk past him and he pushed me back into the cab. I got up and told him I was calling my husband who is a professional boxer,” she says. “I started dialing the phone and he said, ‘I give you a punch in the mouth’ and he turned around and he socked me in the mouth.”
Some City Council members are suspicious of a plan to allow more vegetable pushcart permits because of the competition it may create with bodegas that don’t even sell vegetables to begin with:
Posted: February 1st, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Feed, Follow The Money, I Don't Get It!
Under a bill introduced in December at the mayor’s request — with the backing of Council Speaker Christine Quinn — the city would issue 1,500 new permits for street pushcarts to sell just fruits and vegetables in “underserved communities.”
The carts would be confined to specific areas — identified by police precincts — and would be monitored by health inspectors and the police. Violations could lead to the seizure of carts and fines.
If approved by the Council, the measure will call for phasing in 750 permits per year for two years, with 500 earmarked for the Bronx, 500 for Brooklyn, 250 for Queens, 200 for Manhattan and 50 for Staten Island.
While commending the health goal, participants in a hearing by the Consumer Affairs Committee questioned whether the green carts would hurt neighborhood supermarkets, bodegas and greengrocers.
The skeptics suggested other alternatives, such as allowing stores to set up their own fresh fruit and vegetable stands outside their premises, or providing tax incentives.
“It is going to cause harm,” said Councilman Miguel Martinez (D-Manhattan).
Councilman John Liu (D-Queens) questioned whether “this green cart proposal actually makes sense.”
“Maybe we should be licensing vendors to sell suits outside, and lingerie,” scoffed Councilman Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn).
And Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) cited the warring interests of merchants and street peddlers.
“Welcome to the politics of food,” he said.
And crop failures elsewhere and new emerging markets, but I’m still upset about that biofuel sham:
Posted: January 30th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Feed, Follow The Money
Paying more for flour and wheat has forced H&H Bagels to raise prices in five-cent increments over the past year. In October, a bagel (sans butter or cream cheese) hit $1.20.
“Last year at this time, the price per bushel [of wheat] was $5.31,” said Jorge Delgado, counsel for H & H. “[This week] it was $14.22.”
David Jaffe, a sales rep from Fodera Foods in Queens, sells to roughly 70 Manhattan bagel shop and bakeries. His company may have to allocate goods based on customers’ payment history. “There is no raw material,” he said. “It’s crazy [to talk about allocations], but we’re getting there.”
He blamed price increases on the crop failure in Australia, which forced the Asian market to buy from here, compounded by Argentina not exporting wheat. Plus, more American farmers are switching to biofuels because of ethanol subsidies.
“We’re not in a good situation,” Jaffe said. “China is becoming Westernized and they don’t want to eat rice anymore, they want wheat. Basically, the whole baking industry is under attack and the hardest hit are those who use the most flour — bagels and bread.”
Steve Ross, president of Coney Island Bialys & Bagels, who has kept prices at 70 cents for nearly a year, has seen fluctuations befire, but never a such a steady rise. “It’s always stayed around $18 to $20 a bag,” he said. Ross is now paying $35 for a 100-pound bag. He found out yesterday that’s set to jump $3.
David Wilpon, manager of Ess-a-Bagel, said prices rose 10 to 85 cents in October and they were considering another hike. At Daniel’s Bagels on Third Avenue, Arye Lewkowitz raised prices last month to 90 cents.
“It’s horrible. I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Lewkowitz said. “We’re going to have to sell a bagel for over $1.” He’s set to print new menus shortly, he said.
First they take our football teams, then they want to gouge us on tolls when we want to go root for the Giants:
Posted: January 15th, 2008 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Jerk Move, Staten Island
This one will make you think twice about heading to New Jersey to shop, gamble, visit friends or sun on your favorite beach.
Do some quick math on New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposed toll hikes on Garden State roads, and it gets ugly really fast. By 2022, just 14 years away, football fans could end up paying $27.92 roundtrip to take the New Jersey Turnpike to Exit 16W at Giants Stadium — and that’s not counting the toll on the Goethals Bridge.
Already slammed with recently passed toll increases on the Goethals and Bayonne bridges and the Outerbridge Crossing, Island motorists who regularly travel to New Jersey may find it a much harder pill to swallow if Corzine’s proposal to hike tolls on some of the state’s busiest roads every four years is passed into law.
Corzine announced last week a proposal to increase tolls 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022 on the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway. Those increases, which would also affect a new toll on Route 440, would include inflation adjustments. Tolls would be increased every four years between 2022 and 2085 to reflect inflation.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Bernardo Mendez of New Springville, clad in a New York Giants jacket. Mendez makes regular trips to New Jersey to go bowling, shop and go to Giants games, but will reconsider doing so if the tolls spike as much as proposed. “For people with a lot of money, they don’t care, but for people working very hard just to survive, it’ll make it very hard. It will definitely have an impact on going to New Jersey as often as I used to.”
Other examples of 2022 tolls are even more egregious: A roundtrip on the Garden State Parkway to Point Pleasant Beach and back would be $15.60 and a trip to Atlantic City would be $28.74. Even the short jaunt on the Turnpike to IKEA or the Jersey Gardens mall — a destination for many Island shoppers — would cost $7.38.
Posted: December 20th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Follow The Money, Jerk Move
Beginning in March, many subway and bus riders will have to learn a new math — and it could leave them scratching their heads. Or gnashing their teeth.
On Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to reduce the bonus that riders receive on pay-per-ride MetroCards, from 20 to 15 percent. The board also decided to increase some other fares.
The change in the bonus means many riders will see odd amounts of spare change — as little as a nickel or a dime — left over on their MetroCards. And if large numbers of exasperated riders throw away cards with balances of just 5 or 10 cents, the result could add up to a windfall to the authority in unclaimed fares.
The current 20 percent bonus system makes for simple math: Buy five rides and you get one ride free. In other words, if you feed $10 into a MetroCard vending machine, the card will come out showing a balance of $12.
Under the new plan, the minimum that riders must spend to qualify for a bonus will be reduced to $7, from $10, in an effort to put a fare discount within the reach of more people with lower incomes. But in that case, when someone puts $7 on a card, an additional $1.05 will appear on the card, for a total of $8.05.
If they take four subway trips, at $2 each, that will leave a balance on the card of five cents. If they refill the card with another $7, it will then show a total value of $8.10, enough for four rides, with a dime left over. The real challenge is figuring out how much to put on the card to bring it up to a round sum.
But if you are going to jerk around your fares, at least make sure you first check the name on the card:
Cabdrivers are flouting a new law by throwing up roadblocks to frustrated riders who try to pay with plastic, the Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman said yesterday.
The problem is so widespread, one dishonest hack even tried to refuse the TLC chairman’s credit card.
“It is going to give the industry a black eye,” chairman Matthew Daus told cab-company owners at a monthly TLC meeting.
Daus said that during his ride, a cabby hit a button on the meter from the front seat that selected cash for him. When the commissioner complained that he wanted to pay with his credit card, the driver said it was too late.
The TLC has since changed the meters so that taxi drivers cannot make a selection between cash and credit from the front seat, but drivers continue to insist their credit-card machines are broken.
“It’s just plain wrong,” Daus said yesterday. “This is just breaking the law.”
So then there must be something to those accusations . . .Posted: December 12th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Jerk Move
The MTA board is getting ready to vote on a giant subway fare hike (don’t listen to Governor Spitzer!):
The base fare may still be $2, but the 86 percent of subway and bus riders getting discounts will face higher costs under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s revised fare proposal unveiled yesterday.
MTA chief Elliot Sander said the latest plan is the result of a “balancing act,” weighing concerns for low-income riders who rely on the cash fare against the need to provide discounts for regular customers.
The biggest hit goes to the 30-day unlimited MetroCard, which will climb five bucks to $81. Seven-day cards will go up to $25, but a new 14-day pass will cost $47, or a buck less than two current weekly passes.
The popular 20 percent bonus on pay-per-ride cards will be cut to 15 percent, but the buy-in will be $7 instead of $10. The average fare on the bonus cards will be $1.74, up from $1.67.
Posted: December 11th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues
But some people can’t calculate savings into any fare increase. Many lower-income straphangers buy a weekly pass because that’s all they can cobble together at once, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said. Under the new hike proposal they’re getting the worst deal.
“Sometimes when I don’t even have the money for the weekly pass, I buy the $10 card,” said Melinda Joseph, a 22-year-old who studies and works at a midtown Dunkin’ Donuts. “Now I might get my boyfriend to drive me to school.”
Weak dollar and rising energy costs have hit the city’s Christmas tree industry hard:
Posted: December 10th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues
Christmas trees cost up to 30 percent more than they did last year at Manhattan’s sidewalk tree vendors. “It is the perfect storm; everything is closing in on us at once,” says Scott Lechner, owner of the Manhattan-based Christmas Co., which has three stands. One popular tree variety is the Fraser fir, but it’s grown in the Southeast, where a record-setting drought has cut into available supplies. The main alternative is the Balsam fir, most of which are trucked to New York from Canada. The surging value of the Canadian dollar makes those trees more expensive, and higher oil prices make it cost more both to transport the trees from Canada and run the generators that power their sidewalk stands.
Elliot Spitzer learns the hard way that executive experience is not at all like the “rollicking discussions” he once enjoyed as a youth around his parents’ dinner table. Less than a day — or if you believe the Sun, just hours — after details emerge about the governor’s proposed Amazon tax, he clumsily retreats:
In a second major policy reversal in less than a day, Governor Spitzer is backing down from a plan to require Amazon.com and other online retailers to charge state and local sales taxes on all purchases from New York.
Yesterday, just hours after The New York Sun reported on the new revenue collection scheme, the Spitzer administration announced that it was burying it for the time being — at least until after the Christmas shopping season. The move saved New York City shoppers from having to pay an additional 8.375% on many Amazon.com goods.
“Governor Spitzer believes that now is not the right time to be increasing sales taxes on New Yorkers,” Mr. Spitzer’s budget director, Paul Francis, said in a statement. “He has directed the Department of Tax and Finance to pull back its interpretation that would require some Internet retailers that do not collect sales tax to do so.”
The turnabout came just hours after Mr. Spitzer said he was dropping his plan to allow illegal immigrants in New York to obtain driver’s licenses.
In this latest instance, Mr. Spitzer wasted little time before pulling the plug on another controversial policy, aborting it before it threatened to snowball into a distraction for his administration.
And do you really believe this part?
Mr. Francis, in an interview, said the governor was unaware of the new tax policy, which the tax department quietly issued with a memorandum on Friday. It was supposed to go into effect next month, in time for the holiday shopping rush.
“The governor really wasn’t aware of this. My focus is to raise revenue, and the governor has a broader perspective,” Mr. Francis said. “It’s a big government, and in hindsight, we probably should have made sure he focused on it. It’s one of those things, so you live and learn.”
And a new political axiom is born: if there’s one thing the netroots hate, it’s taxing crap they buy on Amazon (and all for a lousy $100 million . . . that’s somehow using political capital wisely?).Posted: November 15th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Followed By A Perplexed Stroke Of The Chin, Huzzah!, See, The Thing Is Was . . ., Well, What Did You Expect?
Posted: November 14th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Grrr!, Political, That's An Outrage!, You're Kidding, Right?
New Yorkers going Christmas shopping online at Amazon.com will find an 8.375% surprise at the virtual cash register, courtesy of Governor Spitzer, who is moving aggressively to collect Internet sales taxes that have gone widely unenforced.
Under a new policy, major electronic retailers, such as Amazon.com, will be required to collect sales tax on all purchases from New York. The policy, based on a novel legal theory, could hasten the end of the Internet’s era as a duty-free marketplace if other states follow New York’s lead. With the policy, New York immediately took the lead among states that are seeking to tax online commerce.
“I’d say this puts us at the front,” one state tax official, who requested anonymity, told The New York Sun.
Having pledged not to raise taxes, Mr. Spitzer is increasingly scrounging for ways to close a projected $4.3 billion deficit next year. State officials estimate that this latest initiative, which goes into effect in December, will bring in about $100 million more each year, split between state and local government tax revenue. Statewide, the sales tax averages about 8%, although in New York City it is 8.375%.
. . .
When it comes to charging sales tax, e-retailers have been held to the same old standard that the U.S. Supreme Court set for mail-order vendors: The seller only needs to collect the tax on purchases in states where the vendor has a physical presence, such as a storefront or salesman. New York is saying that it has found a way around that obstacle to tax collection. Many e-retailers may have unwittingly lost their exemption because of the way they direct traffic to their Web sites, according to a tax memo recently released by the state’s tax department.
At issue is the “affiliate program” used by many e-retailers. Web site operators can provide a link to an e-retailer in return for a commission on any sale resulting from customers using the link. While the affiliate program may consist of little more than a non-descript advertisement on the computer screen, the tax consequences may be huge: New York state says it is the equivalent of having an instate salesperson.
“It’s just treating the affiliate the same way we would treat any other type of sales representative,” Mr. Spitzer’s budget director, Paul Francis, said in an interview.
. . . to the MTA at least in a case of man versus machine:
Posted: September 27th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, That's An Outrage!, You're Kidding, Right?
The MTA can’t nickel-and-dime straphangers — but it has no problem taking their quarters.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority acknowledged yesterday that one BIG reason it wants a 25-cent bus and subway hike is because its vending machines can dispense only dollar coins and quarters.
MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin defended the increase as fair and said upping it by a nickel or dime wouldn’t be enough.
“The limitations of technology would make a $2.10 fare extremely costly to implement and would provide a much poorer quality of service,” Soffin said.
. . .
Riders weren’t buying it.
“It’s an outrage,” said Anthony Thompson, a Queens engineer. “Our money is being spent because of a hardware defect?”
Recruiter Jisele Lazo, 22, of Queens, said: “It stinks. Why don’t they just leave it at $2? Why are they making it easier for the machines? There are far more commuters than machines.”
. . .
Soffin said smaller change would mean longer lines and riders being saddled with pockets full of silver.
He said the size of the fare hike was not unreasonable because the $2 base fair had remained steady since 2003.
A 25-cent jump would amount to a “cost-of-living” increase for the system, Soffin said.
A rider buying a single-ride ticket priced at $2.10 with a $5 bill would be carting away 11 quarters and three nickels, or 58 nickels, he pointed out.
The machines also would likely run out of change more quickly, have to be filled more often and likely need more frequent maintenance, he said.
Out-of-service machines would result in longer lines at token booths, he said, estimating the added costs to be millions of dollars.
You sniff at the Nasonex revolution at your own peril:
Posted: September 25th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority yesterday proposed charging people less if they ride subways or buses during off-peak periods, in hopes of easing overcrowding during the commuting rushes.
Under the plan, however, most riders would be hit with steep increases, as the authority seeks to generate $580 million from fare and toll increases during the next two years.
The proposal was one of two possible fare-increase formulas offered by the transit agency. The other called for a more traditional set of increases, raising the base bus and subway fare to $2.25 from $2.
The off-peak discount proposal, which if approved would take effect early next year, also calls for a $2.25 base fare. Under this plan, a discounted fare of $1.50 would be available to some MetroCard users during off-peak hours.
But riders who buy the popular unlimited weekly or monthly passes would pay as much as 8 percent more and would not gain from the off-peak discount. Nearly half of all rides taken on the system are paid for with unlimited-ride passes.
And the authority would eliminate the current 20 percent bonus given to people who put $10 or more on a pay-per-ride MetroCard, which now gives them six rides for every five purchased, making the cost of each ride effectively $1.67.
. . .
. . . Elliot G. Sander, the chief executive of the authority, said the alternative structure could help address the system’s rush hour congestion as well as generate more money.
“This is clearly new territory for us,” Mr. Sander said. “It is a very serious, innovative proposal.”
Honduras Maya, a restaurant owned by one of the vendors that serves Latin American food on weekends at the Red Hook Ball Fields, was closed down by the Health Department this week after an inspection stemming from the city’s crackdown on the vendors.
The shutdown could merely be a taste of what’s to come if the 13 food vendors at the ball fields fail to meet strict health code requirements by this weekend. And the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation may not extend the vendors’ temporary permit — which officially expires after Labor Day — until the soccer season ends in late October, as earlier promised.
. . .
Cesar Fuentes, executive director of the Food Vendors Committee of Red Hook Park, said health inspectors are expected to start issuing fines — or shutting down vendors — this weekend for not meeting requirements like providing hot and cold running water, refrigeration, and preparing food in commercial kitchens rather than at home.
Suany Carcamo, the owner of Honduras Maya, has been operating a Honduran food stand specializing in baleadas at the ball fields for more than a decade. Fuentes said her restaurant was investigated by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as a follow-up to a letter she submitted to prove that she was preparing her food for the stand in a city-certified commercial kitchen — her own restaurant.
The Park Slope restaurant received 122 violation points, compared to the citywide average of 14 points, according to the inspection report. Among the 20 violations listed were: missing Choking First Aid, Alcohol and Pregnancy, and Wash Hands signs; evidence of flying insects and mice; toilet facility not maintained and provided with toilet paper; and wiping cloths dirty or not stored in proper sanitizing equipment.
The owners were not available for comment by press time. An employee, when reached by phone, confirmed that the restaurant had been shut down.
But Carcamo could be viewed as one of the lucky vendors. She is one of only two that also owns a restaurant, while many of the others are struggling to find a commercial or community kitchen certified by the Health Department where they can prepare their food.
“The report from my vendors is that it is basically very, very difficult to do,” said Fuentes. After word traveled that Honduras Maya was shut down, “a lot of people were denying vendors the use [of their facilities] out of fear that the Department of Health would enforce harshly.
“Anyone who doesn’t have that letter wouldn’t be allowed to sell,” he said.
(The vendors do nothing to conceal it, we visit there because we want to eat it, we blame the Health Department for being there, but we are all there . . .)
I guess it’s back to those old reliable subway churros for us . . .Posted: August 23rd, 2007 | Filed under: Brooklyn, Consumer Issues, Everyone Is To Blame Here, Feed, Grrr!, That's An Outrage!, There Goes The Neighborhood, Well, What Did You Expect?
Governor Spitzer turns his finely tuned ear towards the inherent fraudulence of cover bands:
Posted: August 22nd, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, You're Kidding, Right?
Knockoff music acts that impersonate the real performers can face fines up to $15,000 under a new law in New York.
“Music artists work for years to build names for themselves in the entertainment industry,” Gov. Spitzer said yesterday after signing the amendments to the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law. “We should not allow others to impersonate their work and profit from that deception.”
Called the “Truth in Music Advertising Law,” it prohibits copycat performances that attempt to cash in through false and misleading representations like names, billings and promotions similar to the original artists.
The measure was inspired when well-known recording artists like the Platters, the Coasters and the Drifters suffered financial losses when their acts and routines were copied without permission, according to the governor’s office.
The move to stop our wasteful addiction to ethanol may begin in the steakhouses:
Posted: August 8th, 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Issues, Feed, Follow The Money
The country’s effort to move away from a dependence on foreign oil and embrace green initiatives appears to be behind a change in one of New York’s purest traditions, the menu of the classic steakhouse.
The production of ethanol, which is made from corn, is one major reason classic cuts of prime beef are becoming more and more expensive, an analyst at the cattle market analysis firm Cattle-Fax, Tod Kalous, said.
“It’s getting worse,” the owner of Ben Benson’s Steakhouse, Ben Benson, said. “The problems the ranchers are having are making it more difficult because feed is getting more expensive.”
Brooklyn’s Peter Luger Steakhouse now serves a rib eye. On some nights at Ben Benson’s in Midtown, diners can order buffalo steak. The Old Homestead of the meatpacking district serves one of the city’s best Kobe burgers.
The new menu items at some city steakhouses are a result of an increase in the price of top-notch beef and a decrease in its availability.
Corn is the primary feed for cattle that produce USDA-grade prime beef. Corn is also the main ingredient for what many believe is the fuel of the future, ethanol. The production of ethanol has not only increased the demand for corn, it has made harvests more profitable for farmers, who receive the fruits of government subsidies when it is sold to ethanol producers.