Driver-Nannies Keep Kids and Parents Safe From Transit

suv.jpg 

Here’s one for the anti-pricing populists. 

Scared of or repulsed by public transportation, too impatient to wait for a cab, and burdened with excess cash, more well-to-do parents are enlisting driver-cum-nannies to ferry the kids to school and soccer practice, according to a recent article in the Observer.

Say hello to the "Dranny."

Jill Zarin, an Upper East Side mother of a teenager, who together with her husband operates Zarin Fabrics and Home Furnishing, is a "dranny" pioneer, having employed one for a decade … and calls the hire a practical investment. "Cabs are exorbitant!" said Ms. Zarin, who is featured on the upcoming Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of New York City. "I took a cab from 60th street to downtown the other day and it cost me $20."

Crystal Sikora, a classical singer and mother of a 7-year-old son, lives uptown but chauffeurs her son, who had an unspecified traumatic experience on the school bus, to and from his downtown private school in her black Dodge Durango. "I spend four hours a day in the car," she said. "My son loves it because I have a DVD player and we spend quiet time in the car together. I like control of my nice, clean car."

Of course all those Durangos and Denalis are clogging up the streets, leading schools to spend extra money on personnel to direct traffic and neighbors to complain about rampant double parking. And though police are reportedly hesitant to ticket cars of prominent families, some dranny employers feel victimized when their $60K-per-year drivers can’t park wherever they want ("Bloomberg’s ticket marathon is out of control," said Barbara S.).

The New York Times ran a similar article about a year ago, focusing on congestion and safety issues at the 92nd Street Y, brought by a surge of chauffeur-driven pre-schoolers.

In the interest of sanity, the Observer also talked to parents who are put off by the dranny trend. Said one: "Part of growing up [in the city] was learning how to budget transportation time, how to choose the best route and how to take responsibility for ourselves. The rewards: self-confidence, freedom to explore the city and a treasure of experiences."

At least one kid feels the same way.

Allyson Shapiro, Ms. Zarin’s 10th-grader, is one of the sheltered kids finally allowed to explore the glory of mass transit. "This year I started taking the train," she said, and marveled: "It was so fast!"

Photo: Jennifer S. Altman/New York Times

  • mike

    That article made me want to vomit.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I worry about safety too, but I am also aware that rather than raising children I am raising future adults.

    Having the kids take the train by themsevles at age 12 wasn’t nearly as scary has having them walk to school by themselves at age 7 or 8. I was worried about them being run over by a motor vehicle while crossing the street. My kids are still afraid to ride bicycles on the street.

    Think of it as social darwinsim. The rich kid in the SUV will be more likely to survive and reproduce than the child trying to cross the street in front of it.

  • s

    old news, not surprising either–the nytimes covered this story about a year ago (in fact, i think that photo is from nytimes.)

  • Jen

    Uh, yeah, s. The Times article is mentioned (and linked) here, and look: there’s a photo credit. Read first, then comment?

    While this might be old news, congestion pricing wasn’t on the table when the Times story came out. Seen in that light it’s yet another hole in the Weiner-Brodsky-etc. “populist” argument.

  • “Cabs are exorbitant! I took a cab from 60th street to downtown the other day and it cost me $20.”

    And yet, she secretly loves congestion pricing because paying for trips downtown means nothing to her and she can not wait to steal the cornfed American joy of daily driving in lower Manhattan from (a tiny portion of) New York’s middle class! Charging for pollution is a plot from the wealthy and our billionaire mayor (who I actually rode the IRT with this morning, sorry can not resist), open your EYES people.

  • It’s just as bad at many public schools, though at public schools it tends to be the parents rather than hired drivers who are dropping the kids off.

    The real news for the private school set this week is that many of them were unable to find a kindergarten willing to take their kid–and most of those blithely ignored the deadlines relevant to getting their kid into a decent public school assuming that private school was the only way to go. This year was the worst ever for kindergarten admissions at many nursery schools and a lot of those parents and their kids will be heading out of town if they don’t get off the waiting list by tomorrow at noon. Parents who themselves attended private school in NYC get to opt out of the rat race through the “early admissions” programs for “legacy kindergartners.” Social Darwinism is alive and well.

    As for your Darwinisim of urban transportation, Larry, I respect your choice but I still maintain that commuting to school with kids in the city is a viable option, whether by rear child seat or “tag-a-long” with younger kids, or with older kids on separate bikes sticking to bike paths and bike lanes where possible, with short detours walking the bike on the sidewalk as necessary for safety/comfort.

    I have found that, with some practice, I am able to ride comfortably and safely with one hand on my handlebars, the other hand on my 5 y/o daughter’s handlebars. In this way I can not only control her speed but also guide her direction. I can even come to a standstill distributing my weight on her and my bike equally, without dismounting, when necessary (better than a trackstand!) This comes in very handy when maneuvering in a variety of potentially dangerous or tight spots.

    There are many, many techniques parents can use to make everyday urban cycling with their kids safer. I wish they were collected all in one spot.

  • Marty

    I don’t understand why you think these people will stop this practice if congestion pricing is adopted.

  • john

    If they have money to burn, a few extra bucks for congestion pricing shouldn’t stop them from driving…

  • s

    “While this might be old news, congestion pricing wasn’t on the table when the Times story came out. Seen in that light it’s yet another hole in the Weiner-Brodsky-etc. “populist” argument.”

    Jen, can you explain what you mean by this? (Please be sincere!)

  • Christian

    The thing that everyone on this board seems to forget is that for the individual, driving is generally a better, faster, more comfortable mode of transport. It’s only when everyone does it that it becomes a problem.

    Because of that the vast majority of people will chose to drive if given the choice.

    HOWEVER, this obviously does not take into account the negative externalities of driving. Rather than ranting about what is a perfectly sensible choice for the individual, the government needs to step in and internalize those externalities in order for the cost/benefit to swing in the other direction.

  • Christian

    One more thing…this post shows why congestion pricing WILL raise money for transit but WON’t significantly decrease driving. Driving in NYC is so expensive as it is that $8 will do little to deter drivers.

    Instead, hit New Yorkers where it hurts, not their wallet, their time.

    Make bus lanes 24-hrs, remove onstreet parkig, expand bus lanes and sidewalks. Basically just reduce space for cars. This will naturally increase congestion, slowing cars and decreasing the time benefit of driving versus taking transit.

  • At my son’s school, the administration has been trying to stop parents from idling their SUVs during drop-off. Letters home to parents didn’t work so the kids were assigned a project of drawing pictures urging their parents not to idle. The pictures are mounted right in the front lobby within eyeshot of the idling parents, and they still do no good.

  • Ryan

    This will naturally increase congestion, slowing cars and decreasing the time benefit of driving versus taking transit.

    What we really don’t need is more parking hunters and impatient drivers.

  • Josh

    A) I fail to see why these people need ginormous SUVs in the city – it’s really just about being showy and it pisses me off as much as anything else about them.

    B) This is why congestion pricing should include intra-zone trips.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (This is why congestion pricing should include intra-zone trips.)

    All in good time. This is a pilot project. It should be fast, and cheap.

    On aspect of the proposal ought to concern cyclists and pedestrians. The CP charge would basically take the place of tolls on the free bridges (other than 60th Street). But no CP money will be used to maintain those bridges, unlike the TBTA tolls. The city has borrowed big time to repair those bridges and needs to maintain them. Bikers and peds use those bridges too.

    That’s why I think the bridges, the debts, AND the CP money should be turned over to the MTA.

  • d

    How can someone with a “dranny,” a $25,000 SUV, $400/month for parking, monthly insurance costs, and enough to pay for gas every week complain about an occasional $20 cab ride? She’s probably paying more than $20 a day to employ her driver and keep and maintain her car.

    To explain what Jen was saying, people like this are poster children for why the populist argument against congestion pricing (it will hurt poor people!) doesn’t hold water. The people profiled in this article could easily afford $8/day, but right now are using city streets for free. (Since these people rarely leave Manhattan during the week, they’d be charged the full $8 and not have any money deducted for bridge or tunnel tolls.)

    And, no, congestion pricing will not get people like this to change their behavior, but my feeling is that the rich will NEVER be adversely affected by fee-based changes to daily activities. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t charge them. Even though congestion pricing might not change their behavior — I highly doubt anyone with this kind of money will stop driving because of CP — the city might as well charge them for the privilege of driving on city streets. CP is, on the one hand, about reducing congestion, but it is also about eliminating the free ride that people like this get on OUR streets.

  • I’ll try this again without the sarcasm, since a string of people have suggested that these caricatures of the wealthy do not care about expenses. Rich people hate all expenses, especially those as unglamorous as a congestion charge. Understanding this is like free therapy, because there is less to envy (that mythical life of “not caring” about money), and also inspiration to regulate one’s own expenses and eventually become (maybe in a later generation), sort of, rich. (On a global scale, most of us already are of course.)

    This very article has an example of a rich person changing behavior because of a few (twenty) dollars. Since she has already blown a ton of cash on a glitzy vehicle, insurance, and maintenance, the $20 of a cab ride is another reason to use the SUV for “free.” These people are reminded of the costs of driving a only couple of times a month: paying the auto note (if there is one), insurance, maintenance, parking, driver’s salary, and filling up with gas. That’s it. Congestion pricing introduces a per-trip, or at least daily, charge and alters the equation completely. Yeah, $8 is less that $20. It is 40% of $20. It also stands in mentally for all the less frequently assessed automobile costs. It will not go unnoticed, nor the hassle of paying it, by people of any income and to claim otherwise is counterproductive class bitterness.

  • Jonathan

    Doc, there’s a difference between handing a $20 bill to a cabbie and having E-ZPass deduct another $8 from your account, to be taken from your credit card every month or so. There’s no hassle in paying it.

  • vnm

    How can someone with a “dranny,” a $25,000 SUV, $400/month for parking, monthly insurance costs, and enough to pay for gas every week complain about an occasional $20 cab ride?

    Easy. Costs that are paid per month are psychologically written off as the cost of doing business. Out-of-pocket costs incurred for a particular purchase are weighed much much more heavily, probably more than they should be.

    This is why people obsess about transit fares, gasoline prices and bridge tolls, but barely think about the much greater cost (measured annually) of automobile depreciation.

    Folks, this is why pricing will be such a deterrent to traffic. Eight dollars, when you make a particular trip. Not an unchanging charge once a month.

  • Felix

    Christian, if we clog traffic as you suggest, we make deliveries expensive. That’s the economic justification for CP – congestion makes it expensive to do business in NYC.

  • drose

    Unfortunately, most of these people will never get tagged with the congestion charge. They live on Park and 82nd, and drive their kids to school at Madison and 91st. Not once will they be crossing 60th Street during the week, unless for some reason their kids need to go down there.

    A better solution for these parents is to remove the resident exemption on the NYC parking tax (also included in the Congestion Commission proposal), for which the extra fees will go to the DOT lockbox for streetscape improvements/Quinn’s ferries. It won’t get their Escalades off the street, but at least the extra money they will pay each month will go to a good cause.

  • I hate driving in New York, via chauffeur,taxi,bus etc…I love MTA.

    http://www.BehindtheApprovalMatrix.com

    http://www.IGotUGGs.com

  • mfs

    I’m looking forward to these upstanding citizens contributing $8 every day to the rest of us transit-riding folks!

  • Mark

    One of the things that drew me to the liveable-streets movement is the principle that reallocating street space will make for fewer and slower-moving cars. That in turn would make it safer for kids to walk to school.

    My parents have a home movie of my mom walking me to my first day in kindergarten — this was in 1962, in the NJ suburb where I grew up. By the end of that school year, I was making the walk both ways by myself, and continued doing so through my last year in high school. Most of my classmates did the same. There were flocks of us on the sidewalks ever morning and afternoon. The only hazardous point was the crossing of a four-lane highway near the school — but the town wisely placed a crossing guard there before and after school hours.

  • “There’s no hassle in paying it.”

    You’re right, Jonathan. I was thinking of the scenario (described under the original plan) of drivers that don’t have e-zpass (what a spelling!), but most of them will. Even so, when they drive across the zone border they will know they’re being charged. They will curse the horrible government that is taking away $8 of the riches they EARNED. All that stuff.

    And as taxis enter the non-gray market of credit card payment kicking and screaming, they too feel less immediately expensive. I won’t argue for taking away convenience, but I don’t think it dampens the effect significantly. Grown-ups know when they slide the mastercard or drive through the e-zpass reader that they’re paying real money for a trip.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The end of walking and biking to school accompanied the ownership of second cars; both followed the entrance of mothers into the labor force in large numbers. I wonder how much school buses and SUV rides have contributed to obesity?

  • JF

    The thing that everyone on this board seems to forget is that for the individual, driving is generally a better, faster, more comfortable mode of transport.

    I don’t “forget” it because it’s not true. I accept that a lot of people believe that, but I don’t. Driving is a humongous hassle, especially here in New York. The reason it’s so popular in other places is that they made walking and taking the bus an even bigger hassle.

  • JF, I agree completely. I went to a meeting 40 blocks from my office today via subway. I was lucky and the trip took 17 minutes door to door. When I left the meeting to make the return trip to the office at about 4 pm, I found it was raining. I was with a colleague who urged a cab so we jumped in one. It took 35 minutes to travel the 40 blocks, far longer than a bike or the train (and probably about the same as a fast walk), and it cost $14.00 with the tip. I found myself getting queasy from the constant stop-and-go and starting to backseat drive the because I couldn’t bear just sitting there. I would have far preferred getting a bit wet to the interminable taxi ride. I won’t even get started on how much less pleasant it would have been to have driven my own car that 40 blocks.

  • mfs hits the nail on the head – I don’t think we could ever charge enough for those that can afford a dranny to disuade them from driving around. But with congestion pricing, they would help fund the mass transit system for those who can’t afford a dranny…or find them morally repugnant.

  • Josh

    JF and BicyclesOnly, you’re neglecting a few things:

    A) Obviously on a weekday afternoon driving through midtown it’s going to be a hassle and take a long time to get anywhere. You’re considering an extreme case, though – there are days and times when driving those 40 blocks could take you less than ten minutes.

    B) There are reasons people like driving beyond just thinking it’s fastest. You’re sitting in a comfortable seat, choosing for yourself whether you want it to be warmer or cooler, not sitting next to the dude with the body odor or the lady putting on nail polish, listening to your choice of music or nothing at all… there are a lot of ways that driving can be a more pleasant experience than walking/biking/taking transit.

    The sooner advocates of other modes of transportation get real about this being the case, the better we’ll be at effectively convincing people that driving isn’t necessarily the best choice.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I agree with Josh. And it should be mentioned that CP is only looking to limit driving in the place and time when driving is the worst — weekdays in the Manhattan CBD.

  • The LMT

    Oh, my heart bleeds when I hear a rich cow complaining about a twenty dollar cab fare! And this is a person who pays how many hundreds of dollars on haircuts, shoes, and makeup?

    I see firsthand how cheap people with money are. They will shortchange on a tip just so they can round off the bill amount. God forbid that they give a service person (who is making maybe 20k a year) an extra five or ten bucks.

    Bring on the congestion pricing, I say, but my cynical heart fears that it’ll never happen.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    There are reasons people like driving beyond just thinking it’s fastest. You’re sitting in a comfortable seat, choosing for yourself whether you want it to be warmer or cooler, not sitting next to the dude with the body odor or the lady putting on nail polish, listening to your choice of music or nothing at all… there are a lot of ways that driving can be a more pleasant experience than walking/biking/taking transit.

    Maybe so, but I think they’re outweighed by all the ways that driving (especially in cities and suburbs) can be a much less pleasant experience. Antisocial people may not be able to reach you with their odors or sounds, but they certainly can make things unpleasant. I was going to go through all the ways, but another blogger has already enumerated them. I would only add the following, which I wrote a couple weeks ago:

    I don’t know about you, but ever since I saw someone get killed by a motorist’s impatience and momentary inattention, driving has rarely been a relaxing or pleasant experience. I’m human, and prone to impatience and inattention. I’d much rather deal with the hassles of taking kids on the subway than worry about the very real possibility that I might kill someone.

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