In an unusual defense from a man normally opposed to cycling lanes, New York City Council Member James Vacca has come out in support of Bike
New York in their bid to remain a non-profit when it comes to charges by the Police Dept. to provide manpower at the group’s biggest event of the year, the TD Five Boro Tour.
“I understand the need for the Police Department to contain costs, but shifting the burden on groups that advance public safety is not the answer,” said Vacca who chairs the council’s transportation committee.
The police department is demanding that Bike New York which runs the yearly, 40-mile TD Five Boro Bike Tour, pony up almost a million dollars in costs for police traffic management and overtime, a request that would normally be considered good business sense, except that the organization and its 32,000 participant event, is a non-profit. And under the law, non-profits don’t pay the costs of police help, according to city statute.
The issue has come under intense scrutiny because Bike New York contends it cannot pay the fee, and is suing the city in the hope that if they win, no payment will have to be made.
“It is difficult to understand how Bike N.Y., which runs a purely recreational event for those who pay to participate, can argue that the event’s purpose is to raise money for charitable donations,” said Gabriel Taussig, who heads the administrative law division for the Law Department.
Up until September 2012, charitable events that offered no competitive athletic challenge would not be charged a NYPD traffic management fee. This amended rule said that athletic events big and small would be charged–even if they were non-competitive and non-charitable.
But Bike New York contends that they are the only charity, an official 501 (c) that is being charged traffic management fees for the event.
Oral arguments in that case as well as a likely public statement by Bike New York’s Executive Director Ken Podziba, will be made on April 10, at 80 Centre St. at 10 AM. Since the case is public, cyclists and anyone else who wants to attend, can do so.
Council Member Gale A. Brewer was also vocal in her support of the group that educates over 12,000 people in how to ride a bicycle.
“It is outrageous that the city of New York would attempt to charge Bike New York, a non-profit entity, almost $1,000,000 for a parade permit,” said Brewer, councilwoman for the Upper West Side of the city.
“While I understand the need to recoup some costs associated with the police presence at the event, this fee would bankrupt a popular organization based on a technicality,” she added.
Indeed it would, said Podziba, who would have to find the funds elsewhere this year to pay the charge, a charge that is curiously being forgiven for
such extra-territorial groups as Revlon Walk Run, MS Bike Ride, Avon Walk-Run, and a cystic fibrosis fund raiser–none of which originate in New York City, and all of which benefit areas and people around the country rather than just locally.
Bike NY educates New Yorkers in how to run a bicycle, which is where the majority of its funding goes, said Podziba.
Some of the difference in treatment might have to do with politics.
Revlon is run by CEO Ron Perelman who is a larger than life figure in New York City, and his prominence in business, as well as his association with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, may have something to do with the fact that his event—which also takes over city resources with no specific payback to the force of blue–is not being asked for city fees.
Perelman who ranks no. 79 on Forbe’s richest men list, is said to be worth $12.2 Billion, not the kind of man one would want to anger with a bill for police services, especially when he has been known to donate to other city efforts, such as a dinner fundraiser with Halle Berry at Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem in 2011, which the mayor also attended to benefit the NYC Family Justice Centers.
In its complaint filed against the city, Bike New York contends that the city “acted arbitrarily and capriciously and committed an error in finding the Bike Tour to be a ‘Non-Charitable Athletic Parade.'”
“The rules are unclear, and so arbitrary, how would an organization know whether they would have to pay fees if they weren’t told explicitly by the city the way we were,” said Podziba.
Could it be the total number of people participating and the sheer size of the Bike NY event? “If it is, then the ruling does not state that,” countered Podziba.
The action against the city which is being taken under Article 78, poses the question, “what are we not doing that other 501 (c)’s are doing that are not being charged a fee, please tell us,” said Podziba.
The NYC ING Marathon, which is a for-profit event sponsored by the NY Road Runner’s club, was also presented with a bill for police services in 2012, as was the NYC Aquaphor Triathlon, both of which passed along the additional cost to participants. Before the marathon was cancelled in 2012 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the fee for domestic entrants was $255, and for foreigners, $347.
The NYC Aquaphor Triathlon is charging its 3,000 participants from $306 to $588 including fees in 2013, and depending on their fundraising status–special fundraisers pay more.
The cost for the 2013 IronMan for NYC, which last year scheduled the swim, bike and most of the run in New Jersey, with a run finish in New York City, was listed at an astounding $1200–$250 more than last year’s race according to reports, until the race was indefinitely suspending, apparently for mounting logistical costs, read police and traffic management costs–in New Jersey.
Race organizers for the IronMan have chosen to stick to more far-flung locales, such as Lake Placid, NY, where the entry fee is a far less demanding $650.
On this point, Podziba is adamant that despite a raise in fees this year to $86, he does not want to pass along the cost of city services to participants because he firmly believes the TD Five Boro Bike Tour is a family event. “We want a family to be able to ride on city streets,” he said. Raising the
rates to $100 or $120 per person he noted, would make it unaffordable for families to take part.
The group has made other efforts to raise funds through the event, such as offering a Gran Fondo participant the ability to ride in the event without having to go through the lottery, which normally is complete in a matter of days for this popular event that brings people into the city from all over the country.
The Gran Fondo riders, who can number up to 2,000, will be given V.I.P. status, as well as a special jersey commemorating the event, and can race up the pitch of the Verrazzano Bridge– a feat much harder than it sounds.
But as with all new endeavors, that strategy may take some time to pay off. In the meantime, the city is holding out its hand for exactly $967,534, and will not approve permits until the money is paid.