NYC Tries GPS to Track Snowplows

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A NYC plow working after the post-Christmas blizzard. AZI PAYBARAH/WNYC


(John Keefe, Transportation Nation) As meteorologists forecast more snow for New York City, City Hall plans to track where the streets are being cleared -- with GPS-equipped plows.

In the post-Christmas blizzard two weeks ago, cars, buses and ambulances were stranded throughout the city, and many streets remained unplowed for days. City officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were widely criticized for their response to the storm.

At a press conference this afternoon, Bloomberg said last time, "there was a discrepancy between information coming into and out of City Hall and what people were actually experiencing on the streets."

In a pilot project that will be tested if the snow flies tomorrow, GPS-enabled plows -- many of which are modified garbage trucks -- will roam the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood, Flatbush and Ditmas Park, and also parts of Kensington.

Bloomberg said the tracking devices have become so cheap that eventually all 1,700 plows could be tracked, providing information not only on snow removal but also salting and trash pickup. Drivers of municipal vehicles in other cities, and in NYC taxi cabs, have fought such tracking systems as an invasion of their privacy.

Whether snowplow location information will be made public remains an open question. The Mayor's spokesman, Stu Loeser, said in a phone interview with TN that the city could expand the number of plows with GPS's. If it goes well tomorrow, he said, that could happen as soon as next week.  As for making the data public in real time, "we wouldn't rule it out."   In other cities, public access to real-time tracking data lets residents know when they can expect plows and buses.