Food Trucks Going Digital in New York City

Food Trucks Going Digital in New York City

Digitally savvy equals success for trucks and foodies alike.

Hot dogs, pupusas, kebabs, bamboo rice sticky bowls, fried chicken, falafel, bulgogi, and tacos made from any and all of the above. That’s “Food Truck Food,” New York City style. Every type of ethnic, fusion and fabulous food, prepared fresh daily, in food trucks on every block and in every borough.

Officially there are 4,235 food vendors in New York City, but unofficial estimates (which include non-permitted vendors, as well as rented and black market licenses) are at least double that number.

Entrepreneurial, fun, and, with a rapidly growing market, food trucks are beyond popular. But, it’s also a competitive market so it takes more than wonderful waffles, like the Belgian awesomeness of Wafels & Dinges, to keep customers coming back and to turn a profit.

It takes technology—starting with the right dongle.

No, a dongle isn’t a type of donut fusion with some exotic glaze. It’s the small credit card reader that attaches to phones, tablets and laptops so people can pay using a card.

Square has been the popular choice for this task since at least 2011, according to an article in Mashable. It, and digital tools like it, “make running a mobile business much easier and more efficient, since you don’t have to waste time counting cash or getting change from the bank.”

Square also has services to track sales, set up price lists (including specials!) and manage inventory. Square charges, on average, about 2.75 to 3.5 percent of the sale which makes them affordable on a lean budget. Other, similar, merchant vendor devices and services are offered by PayPal.

Once a food truck has the ability to accept payment in all forms, the next step (a daily step!) is to let customers know they’re open and ready for business.

This requires social media, including Twitter and Facebook, as well as membership with a mapping and food truck-tracking website and app.

Why the need to have multiple, facile, platforms and apps?  

The most obvious reason: food trucks are mobile. With traffic, construction, protests and parades trucks need to be able to adapt to ever-changing landscape of city—yet still let people know where to find the food.

Social media lets food-truck-fans follow digitally so that following the path of favorite trucks literally is easier. Also, in order to make ends meet many trucks offer catering and delivery—usually via-online-ordering.

That’s where joining up with a site like RoamingHunger really comes into play. The company has been around since 2009 and has maps of multiple cities where all the best food trucks are listed, mapped (with time as well as place!) and tracked.

Based on the site’s list of popular trucks, including Korilla BBQ which won the Rookie of the Year Vendy in 2011 and is still going strong, connecting to a website like RoamingHunger is mandatory for mobile eateries. It effectively gets the word out and brings customers in.

For those on the other side of the counter, the food-truck-foodies, technology makes finding new options and old favorites easy. In addition to RoamingHunger, FoodTrucksIn offer location and contact information for food trucks (if the truck has “checked in”) as well as a sort feature for hungry foodies to look for the exact type of food in which they’re interested.

Of course, for calorie-free enjoyment there’s always Pinterest and Instagram. Many food truck vendors use these sites to highlight their really “wow” menu items.

Though you may still be uncertain which food trucks to visit for lunch as the weather gets warmer, one thing is for sure: food trucks and technology may both be mobile, but as a pairing they aren’t going anywhere.

An Age Old Tale: Ads vs Art in New York City

An Age Old Tale: Ads vs Art in New York City

New York City is a city with many reputations, not all of which fit neatly in a box. The restless metropolis is both a financial and artistic capital, known as much for Time Square’s neon ad-space as it is a canvas for renowned creators from poet EE Cummings to muralist Banksy.

Walk down a street and you’ll see a flashy Apple billboard on one side and street art on the other. Jump on the Q train, and you’ll see a Seamless campaign on the wall alongside a poem by Walt Whitman. New York has managed to allow ads and art to share space, even when the former is not as financially viable. How can this be, and can there be harmony between the two—and just as importantly, those behind them?

It’s important to begin by prefacing that ads and art have a lot in common. Overlap exists in the skills used to create them, and in their impact: catching the eye, heart, or mind’s attention, or eliciting a certain emotion. The difference is all in the intent: art isn’t selling anything, except itself or an idea from time to time.

New York City’s history as an artistic hub is well-known. To this day artists flock to New York City for its vibrant art scene, though the barrier to entry—not to mention the rent—has gone up since the days of beat poets and starving artists. Home to some of the world’s best art museums, like the MoMA and the MET, New York City is an artistic mecca in all fields: music, theater, writing, painting, you name it. And why not? With a rich history, diverse populace, and colorful culture, the streets are steeped in inspiration from the Bronx to Brooklyn.

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Still, as much as artists are drawn to its lights like moths to a flame, New York has always been about the money first: think Wall Street, Upper West Side mansions and TriBeca penthouses. A beacon of hope in theory, the city of opportunity is also incredibly cut-throat. These days, “making it” means making money. And one way to do that? Go commercial.

Advertising is far from the only field that has commercialized art, but it’s certainly notable from an aesthetics perspective. The site of the hit AMC show Mad Men and the real life ad scene that inspired it, New York has also been an international hub for advertising for over a century. Among others, New York is home to the Omnicom Group, the second largest ad agency in the world with an annual revenue of over $15 billion.  

Times Square is the most obvious, visual representation of NYC’s ad status. As early as WWII, the area has been a major intersection and prime vision of ad-space since the late 1800s. The first electrified advertisements appeared in 1904 and grew significantly in the 1920s. Though it declined and rose with the city over the years, especially following the Great Depression, WWII, it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world to this day. This is stunning when you consider that people are traveling across the world to essentially see advertisements in bulk.

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It’s worth noting that Times Square isn’t a godless vacuum of cheap Elmos, naked Cowboys, and Coca-Cola ads: it’s also the heart of New York City’s theater district. Broadway has been a safe haven and love of artists for decades, but it’s also a multi-billion dollar industry, much like other forms of entertainment: music, movies, etc.

Is it surprising, then, that you can walk down the street in New York and still consume art for free? As Jordan Seiler, founder of the Public Ad Campaign,” told the New York Times, “Advertising frames the public environment as being for sale but public space is not inherently commercial.” New York has always valued art and will always have people in the public and private sector pushing to showcase it.

Seiler’s project, Public Ad Campaign, advocates for artists taking over public ad space. It also promotes an app called “No Ad” that uses augmented reality to transform ads into a “curated digital art experience” — among other partnerships, tools and exhibitions. The idea is for artists and art-lovers alike to resist ads in favor of artistic messages.

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This renegade approach may not be wholly necessary, because it appears that New York is already on board with not-for-profit ads; the two coexist and not compete. People who work or study advertising, for their part, often create their own art on the side (there’s a reason the industry attracts writers and illustrators). More importantly, public projects commissioning local artists to decorate subways and “beautify” neighborhoods are proliferating. Heck, the MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” was even brought back by popular demand.

This just goes to show that people like art for art’s sake, and the city knows that. It’s in their best interest to keep this in mind in order to attract residents and keeping commuters happy. For this reason, we can expect to continue seeing artists given a seat at the table, even if they’re sharing elbow space with Don Draper.

Will Ride-Sharing Vanquish NYC’s Yellow Cabs?

Will Ride-Sharing Vanquish NYC’s Yellow Cabs?

The concept of ride-sharing, exemplified by popular services Uber, Lyft and their corresponding apps, is still a fairly fresh transportation trend. Unlike regular planes, trains, and automobiles, ride-sharing apps constitute startup business models that have the potential to disrupt entire transport ecosystems—especially in regards to the already robust taxi fleets in major cities like New York.

Will taxi fleets be a thing of the past, lost by the wayside like horse-drawn carriages? New research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that, if passengers get on board with the car-pooling elements of ride-sharing services, New York City’s transportation network could be supported with just a quarter of its current 14,000 yellow cabs. As few as 3,000 vehicles, researchers say, could service the entire metropolis.

Because the remaining vehicles could be Ubers, Lyfts, Junos, Vias, Getts, or other black car with an app attached, New York City could in theory pull a whopping 85% of its yellow cabs and still service 98% of commuter demand. This would come with huge consequences, both good and bad. As an obvious negative, thousands upon thousands of drivers would lose their jobs. As a positive, congestion could clear up significantly along with pollution.

Of course, these predictions are still largely speculative. They operate on the assumption, first of all, that commuters would be willing to use ride-sharing apps and, importantly, share their cars with other people. Since many people choose cabs to avoid sharing space with strangers, this assumption may be a stretch.

Researchers also factored the rise of autonomous vehicles into the equation. Their algorithms suit autonomous vehicles best, as this technology would in practice plan routes most efficiently. The whole point is that less traffic, smarter vehicles, and ride-sharing would make cab-hailing (and even driving) unnecessary. Without autonomous vehicles, you still get traffic and accidents, meaning more drag-time on the road.

It’s true nonetheless that autonomous technology is progressing rapidly, with investments in the field growing too. But the fact remains that most Americans are simply not interested in autonomous vehicles, and cite a lack of trust as a big reason.

But assume that autonomous cars do catch on in a big way. PBS speculates that this would simply lead to more congestion and emissions, as people would choose go about their professional or personal activities enroute. If people are willing to work, eat, and sleep on the road, this is certainly a possibility. So the question becomes, are New Yorkers more likely to get comfortable in a driverless car for a grueling but hands-free commute, or rub up against strangers for a fast one?

Whatever the case, New York City’s taxi drivers appear to be bracing themselves for change, whatever magnitude it may be and however soon. Though researchers claim that limiting fleet number would be an improvement—the same amount of money for shorter shifts—not everyone is convinced.

The shift is well underway, and taxi drivers are feeling it. According to the New York Times, taxi medallions are going for half of the $1.3 million recorded just three years ago, and the average number of daily taxi trips has been reduced by 100,000 in comparison to six years ago. As more people grow comfortable using apps to catch rides, the decline of yellow cabs isn’t just inevitable. It’s already happening.

In a way, the vanishing of taxis, if and when the time comes, will be the end of an era. Yellow cabs have become synonymous with New York life: a quintessential flash of color in a sometimes gloomy cityscape. It’s hard to imagine the city without them. But nostalgia can’t erase the fact that ride-sharing is cheaper, easier, and more efficient than sticking your hand into the street and hoping to catch a car at random.

If taxis become obsolete, is transport system run by ride-sharing startups ideal? Judging by the recent backlash against the Uber, perhaps not. Ride-sharing companies, still only about decade old, have a lot of kinks to work out in order to prove that they are in the drivers’, employees’ and customers’ best interest. Given the fierce competition, we’ll likely see adjustments in the market to meet the demands and preferences of the public. If the result is black instead of yellow, so be it.

7 Unconventional Date Ideas for Offbeat New Yorkers

7 Unconventional Date Ideas for Offbeat New Yorkers

As anyone on the planning end of a date knows, breaking away from the typical dinner-and-a-movie narrative can be a bit overwhelming. In a city like New York, where urbanites can find almost any activity available in some corner of the city or boroughs, how do you choose the right activity and set the tone for an impressive date that shows off your offbeat interests? If you’re out of ideas, check out the list below for some novel date excursions for you and your special someone.

For sports lovers

For an unusual venue and unconventional sport, check out the Royal Palms Shuffleboard club in Gowanus. You don’t have to book a cruise to get your deck game kicks: this Brooklyn hotspot features 10 shuffleboard courts, DJs, board games, in-house food trucks, and–of course–bars. If you don’t know how to play, court time comes with a free lesson.

For movie lovers

For an old-timey movie date, buy tickets to Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. Thanks to its own legislative lobbying, Nitehawk Cinema legally serves food and a wide selection of alcohol–including handcrafted cocktails and local beers–during performances. Short of a drive-in, this may be the most romantic dinner and a movie you can find in the city.

For magic lovers

For a delightful dining experience, book two tickets to A Taste of Magic at Gossip restaurant. Roving magicians entertain diners between courses with sleight of hand and magic tricks.

For meditative lovers

For a truly thoughtful and energizing experience amidst a tumultuous time, take your significant other to meditate at MNDFL Mindful Meditation. Mediation can reduce stress, induce calm, and improve your outlook. Together you and your partner can form a new healthy habit and resolve to live more consciously in the new year.

For dance lovers

For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, head on down to Jebon Sushi in the East Village. The St. Marks establishment is home to a weekly show hosted by Kaeshi of Bellyqueen, a professional belly dancing troupe. Along with drinks and food, take in the Arabic, Turkish, and Flamenco fusion jams, enjoy the performers, and show off your own dance skills on the open floor!

For history lovers

For a look at love out of time and an appreciation of how matchmaking and meeting people has changed, take a trip down to the Lower East side. The Tenement Museum offers a peek into early twentieth century courting rituals and the love stories of boarders at 97 Orchard Street in its Love at the Tenement tours on February 10.

For animal lovers

In a truly unique romantic gesture, the Bronx Zoo lets you name a Madagascar hissing cockroach after your special someone, whether an entomophile or an ex. You can also add on chocolate and a plush cockroach for bonus points. The experience of meeting their unlikely namesake on a trip to the zoo is something your significant other won’t forget anytime soon.

NYC Real Estate: Is the Market Softening, or Just Correcting?

NYC Real Estate: Is the Market Softening, or Just Correcting?

As reported by Bloomberg, what began as a softening of the luxury real estate market in New York has expanded to lower-tier properties. The top 20 percent of apartments are now experiencing price cuts.

Changes in real estate values tend to make investors and homeowners break out in a cold sweat, much like swings in the stock market. But, the current trend in New York isn’t anything to panic about. 2016 wasn’t anything like the crash of 2007-2008.  

According to Bloomberg, the luxury market and the tier just under that market (again, the top 20 percent of properties) saw price drops in the 5 to ten percent range.

The definition of a stock market correction is a ten percent drop. The drop, unlike real estate, is often hard to predict, but it’s still considered business-as-usual and not a crash.

In order to keep perspective, it’s important to understand why the real estate market is softening. What’s causing the current dip in New York property prices?

First, 2015 was a “record year for residential building permits in New York City”, according to Slate.

In December 2016, the magazine ran an article that stated, “With developers pressed by expiring loopholes, the city authorized nearly 35,000 new units in the second quarter and nearly 10,000 more in the fourth. Total permits topped 50,000—more than any year since the early 1960s. And many of them aren’t done yet—according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about half of all multi-unit projects take more than 13 months from the permitting date to be completed.”

Translation: the permits issued in 2015 created projects that were being finished in 2016 and early 2017. With those units on the market (or soon to be there), basic supply and demand theory indicates that residential real estate prices will drop.

Yet, New York is still an expensive place to live. Even with the building boom, finding affordable living options is still a challenge.

According to Fortune, “more younger folks are finding themselves attracted to medium-sized cities, which may not have the same professional opportunities as their larger counterparts, but provide housing affordability. Cities like Raleigh, N.C., and Fort Collins, Colo., have seen building permit issuance soar over the past six years as they attract younger adults seeking cheap rents and lower asking prices. Expect the trend to continue in 2017.”

Younger professionals whose wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living are moving to smaller, more affordable cities. So, when they do get to a point that they can afford to buy, they’re not buying in New York. Ironically, that could drive down the housing prices. Fewer buyers and potential buyers means more competition for the buyers that are still in New York.

Finally, there are truly only so many people who can afford high end, luxury, housing, even in New York.

Curbed’s sales market report states, “In 2016, contracts to buy Manhattan houses priced at over $4 million were 21 percent fewer than in the same period in 2015. And the properties that sold sat on the market an average of 291 days, or 54 more days than in the same time last year.”

A $4 million home, with a 20 percent down payment ($1 million) has a monthly mortgage of $21,099.  According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in the first quarter of 2016 Manhattan’s average weekly wage was $2,783.

Not nearly enough to cover the mortgage on a luxury home. So, maybe it is time for a little bit of market correction?

New York City’s Incredible Almost-Buildings

New York City’s Incredible Almost-Buildings

Although New York City is always changing, it’s hard to imagine to imagine it as anything other than what it is. But change is part of New York’s identity. It is manifest in the crowds of people swept up and spilled out of the island metropolis. Even evidence of New York’s history–in the recreated apartments of the Tenement Museum, for example, and the old City Hall subway station–still feel folded up in this vision. New York has endless layers: you can ascend seventy floors in an elevator to get to your office or descend four stories on the escalator to ride the subway.

To imagine another New York–a different New York, rather than one that has previously existed or secretly exists–is a different matter. It rings of an alternate timeline, so anchored is this city’s iconic skyline in its urban identity. Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin have documented just that, though, in their book Never Built New York. By canvassing architectural firms and archives when available, the authors have unearthed designs and plans for a New York that might have been. Not only could these designs have become a reality, but they might have taken the place of other now iconic architecture in the city.

Some projects were closer to inception than others, but many would have radically altered the cityscape. A gigantic dome over Midtown and a floating airport on the Hudson seem some of the more far-fetched ideas, as does an ambitious extension of downtown Manhattan into New York Bay. As the authors point out, however, these ideas may not have seemed so extreme when first proposed. “’It was a time when people really believed in the power of technology,” Lubell says. ‘And they thought, you know, we can do kind of anything. … We’re building spaceships that go to the moon, why can’t we build a dome over Manhattan to get rid of all this pollution, get rid of all the problems of weather?’”

Credit: Stanford University Libraries va pri.org

Credit: Stanford University Libraries va pri.org

That’s all well and good, but what about Frank Lloyd Wright’s proposal to transform Ellis Island into a bubble city? And his plan might have been preferable to the immediate alternatives: a prison or a resort. Ellis Island wasn’t in use for long after WWII, so it makes sense the city would want to develop it. No landmark is sacred, as proved by the demolished old Penn Station. And Grand Central Station isn’t still standing for lack of trying.

Many city landmarks might have looked very different if, for example, City Hall had been rebuilt as a “neo-Egyptian pile” in the style of Scottish architect George Ashdown Audsley around the turn of the turn of the twentieth century. And the Federal Reserve Bank could have been made of glass and elevated many stories above the ground via steel columns!  Speaking of columns, residential towers were once considered for use as supports of bridges spanning city rivers.

Although some of the designs may sound impossible, some would have undoubtedly complemented the city, like Edward Larrabee Barnes’s 1974 biosphere. Some might have improved the skyline, like a Columbus Circle building for ABC designed in 1963 to take the shape of a flower. There’s also the proposed 2004 Olympic Village, situated on the now booming Queens waterfront…

To help New Yorkers and visitors imagine a Big Apple that might have been, the authors are working with the Queens Museum to reconstruct atop the museum’s existing model of the city. The exhibit will open later in 2017.

Featured image: American Weekly via pri.org 

Prepare for Four More Years of Trump Traffic

Prepare for Four More Years of Trump Traffic

New York City has already accommodated for Trump supporters—and Donald Trump’s headquarters in Midtown leading up to the 2016 election and beyond. Now, the city is preparing for four years of tightened security and more traffic as presidential motorcades make their way in and out of New York City during Trump’s term. Commuters, Manhattan residents, and taxi drivers are all going to be part of larger swarms of traffic going in and out of New York City on a daily basis. If you’re planning to move into the city or are already living in the city and exploring housing options, don’t overlook the traffic forecast in the neighborhood as we see an increase in vehicles and tighter security measures because of Trump’s election.

While residents and visitors to Manhattan are already used to traffic jams and traffic headaches day and night, having a New York resident serve as President of the United States means there will be many presidential motorcades and security officers patrolling the streets. The streets around the Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan were almost impossible to maneuver the week of the election and for a few weeks afterwards as both protesters and supporters made their way to the tower to share their views.

Since Donald Trump has New York City roots and a team in the city working with him, he may be making many trips to area restaurants, event venues, and other points of interest at a moment’s notice. This won’t give the city much time to block off roads, divert pedestrian traffic, and take other security measures to ensure Trump, his family, and his workers are safe — and that New York residents and drivers aren’t entirely affected by Trump’s next move.

In a letter to Obama and Congress about Trump’s inauguration, Mayor Bill de Blasio pointed out, “It is a high-density neighborhood and street traffic easily obstructs pathways to and from the building, making it profoundly challenging for the NYPD to establish a secure perimeter.” The first bill to cover Trump security costs was an estimated $35 million.

So what can we expect now that election season is over? Any major events where Trump will be present will require additional security and NYPD may be involved in redirecting traffic. We might see a disruption in tourist flow when Trump is traveling across the city. Director of the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, Bhairavi Desai, shared with the Wall Street Journal that 20-minute trip turns into a 40-minute trip when Obama was in town. Many cab drivers will be looking at similar traffic delays and the possibility of changing routes at the last minute now that Trump, a local resident, will be in town more often than not.

The recent election has shaken up New York City in many ways and we can expect to see a significant impact on traffic patterns and tourist flow in the upcoming years. Current residents and future residents to the city will need to accommodate for large-scale traffic jams and ongoing traffic problems as Trump and his crew make their way around the city for events, appearances, and day-to-day travel needs.

Will Virtual Assistants Change the Real Estate Game?

Will Virtual Assistants Change the Real Estate Game?

Hint: Yes, and Maybe Sooner than We Thought

While finding shelter may be one of the oldest human instincts, the way we find shelter may be about to change drastically—at least when it comes to buying or renting a new home.

In early December, 2015, a father-son team, Miquel and Ami Berger, of Albany, New York created an app that works with Amazon Echo–one of the many devices currently available in the U.S. that offer electronic virtual assistants. In the case of Amazon, the assistant is named “Alexa.”

Virtual assistants, from Alexa, to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, respond to vocal prompts and do everything from finding a coffee shop to getting directions to The American Museum of Natural History to turning on the lights in your home– depending on how digitized and wired-up your life is. (For a humorous explanation of the benefits and limits of various personal assistant devices, or “the genie in the hockey puck” read OnComp’s blog.)

So, how does the app work? Pretty much like having a conversation with an agent or relator who has every MLS listing in their head–albeit a formal and limited conversation. First you ask Alexa to “open real estate.”  Alexa will then say, “welcome to your virtual agent” and you’re off. Do you want to buy, rent or sell? How many bedrooms? What’s your price range?

The app is being tested in the Berger’s hometown of Albany and is one of only a few on the market.  

Does that mean the market is limited? Will people really use a disembodied electronic voice to find a new home? Trends indicate that yes, this is the next technology step in house hunting.

According to the National Association of Relators, in 2015, 51 percent of home-buyers found their house on the internet and 34 percent used an agent. By comparison, eight percent of home-buyers saw a yard sign or an ad for an open house.

Digital assistant apps are, essentially, where the internet and the agent are one and the same.

Still seems far-fetched? Well, remember when phones were only used to make phone calls?

Like smart phones, virtual assistants are getting smarter and more useful every day. In June, Fortune magazine reported that Alexa had more than 1,000 skills, due the multitude of apps being developed for the Echo device.

If the use of digital assistants explodes the way smart phone use in general has—64 percent of American adults now own a smart phone, which is nearly double the number reported in 2011 according to the Pew Research Center– then asking an app to find you a place to live could become common-place. The same Pew survey also reports that phones are already used for everything from checking on health conditions to applying for jobs.

Is it such a stretch, then, to imagine a scenario where a frustrated renter is standing in their tiny, galley, kitchen and walking Alexa, or Siri, through filling out forms for a mortgage? One that will cover a larger home with a real kitchen!

Take into account that 35 percent of the homes purchased in 2015 were by first-time buyers, and that the median age of first-time buyers was 32. These older Millennials, despite their generation’s bad-rap, are tech-savvy grown-ups who need a great place to live.

Where are they going to look for information?  Clearly, not the newspaper or yard signs.  But asking a personal, digital, agent to find the perfect home?

That’s not just in some far-off, fantasy, future—it’s here.

The Impact of Soda Taxes on the Economy: Boom or Bust?

The Impact of Soda Taxes on the Economy: Boom or Bust?

In the past six months, five major cities/counties have passed taxes on sugary soda drinks, but this movement has been building momentum for years. Hawai’i deferred such a tax in 2013, and California cities made unsuccessful attempts in 2012. Former New York Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on 16+ ounce sodas was thwarted. “Forty times, city or state governments had proposed taxes on sugary soft drinks, failing each time,” reported The New York Times.

The pattern finally broke when Berkeley gave the green light on a soda tax in 2014. Earlier this summer, Philadelphia legislators placed a tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on both regular sugar and diet soda beverages. In the fallout from the presidential election, it may have gone overlooked that voters in San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany, California, as well as residents of Boulder, Colorado, all approved sugar soda taxes that will soon begin to take effect. The taxation rate for California cities will be 1 cent per ounce, and Boulder will tax at 2 cents per ounce. Since the election, Chicago’s Cook county has also passed a beverage tax that includes artificially-sweetened diet sodas. It is expected that some of these costs will trickle down to consumers, rather than resting solely with retailers. The tax would therefore reduce sales by making an unhealthy habit more expensive.

So what changed over the past few years to see these measures successful, with voter support? Public perception has shifted to embrace the amassed evidence: that the increase in sugar consumption–noteworthy in America over the last few decades–is detrimental to one’s health. The Berkeley tax essentially certified those health findings and marked the altered mindset of the masses. According to Business Insider, “Berkeley, California’s soda tax, which passed in 2014 and went into effect in May 2015, has resulted in a 22% drop in soda consumption in low-income neighborhoods, according to one study.” However, it’s worth noting that the same information that led to approval of the tax may have already affected people’s buying habits.

But the health argument alone was not enough for Philadelphian lawmakers: Mayor Jim Kenney made the case for raising revenue with the tax, revenue that could be used toward issues closer to people’s hearts. “The promise of prekindergarten energized the city’s education advocates, who joined with public health advocates. […] Ultimately, the soft drink tax revenue won’t pay just for prekindergarten, but for a host of city programs, reflecting the priorities of the council members who voted for it.” The city expects to see an additional $91 million a year from the soda tax revenues.

It’s not surprising that lawmakers made the decision based on funds, when you consider the millions spent by the soft drink industry lobbying against such measures. The money in this game is considerable: $5 million to fight the tax in Philadelphia, provided by the soft drink industry, Teamster union, and local grocery stores, spent on lobbying and marketing. That figure pales in comparison to the California campaign, which spent $40 million to try and stop the tax; half of those funds was provided by the American Beverage Association.

The soft drink giants maintain that the soda taxes discriminate in the sense that soft drinks are grocery items, which opens the door to more taxation on common foods. They also claim the taxes could cost jobs and hurt business. “Sandy Douglas, the president of Coca-Cola North America said in a statement: ‘We believe there are better alternatives for encouraging moderation in sugar consumption than higher taxes.’”

However, recalling that recent shift in public perception, “experts said that sugary drinks’ increasingly bad reputation made it an appropriate political target.” As Gail Cole notes, taxing superfluous items is a time-honored tradition, taking precedent from taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. Would-be Americans once famously rioted over a tax on tea, combined with a British law that supplanted American tea merchants.

Business Insider reports that a recent study by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health anticipates not only that Bay Area residents will drink 20% less soda, but will see a 4% decrease in diabetes by 2018 and a drop in obesity as a result. “This reduction in rates of obesity and diabetes would cut healthcare costs in the San Francisco Bay Area by $54.9 million over 10 years.” For Boulder, the study found that “the incidence of diabetes would drop by an estimated 10% in the city. Healthcare costs would decrease by $6.4 million over 10 years.”

A study in the American Journal of Public Health (funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) addresses the soft drink industry’s charge of job loss as a result of the tax: the tax could actually lead to more jobs and more spending money. And soft drink companies are already future-proofing their portfolios to meet public demand for less sugary drinks, so the soda tax will have less and less impact as they continue to expand those products lines.

Ultimately, the fallout from soda taxes could include health benefits and savings, an increase in available spending money, more job growth, and a prekindergarten program in Philadelphia. If soft drink execs are correct, we could see more grocery item taxes, designed to capture revenue for the city, and job losses. With the newly enacted soft drink taxes, we’ll soon have five cities’ worth of data to analyze, so only time will tell.

Check Out NYC’s Vintage Holiday Subway Line

Check Out NYC’s Vintage Holiday Subway Line

A lesser-known holiday tradition for New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is to put vintage subway cars–usually on display at the New York Transit Museum–back in service, but for a limited time only. The “Shoppers Special” operates annually on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, departing several times a day from the 2nd Ave. station and making local stops along the 6th Ave F/M line to Queens Plaza.

This special 8-car train consists of R1/9 “City Cars” that ferried passengers throughout the city from 1930 to 1970, along unrecognizable lines like the AA, BB, CC, EE, and H. As the MTA puts it, “The jazz composer Billy Strayhorn would have taken a City Car to Sugar Hill when Duke Ellington told him to ‘Take the A Train.’”

This special subway ride will transport you in more ways than one: the train cars are decorated with era-appropriate ads, as documented here by Business Insider. And the cars themselves are a nostalgia trip, with “rattan seats, ceiling fans, incandescent bulb lighting, drop-sash style windows, and roll signs” (MTA). Swinging metal hanging “straps” help brace standing riders: the swinging lets you sway more with the motion of the train than the parallel grab bars in their modern counterparts. The light bulbs overhead consistently flicker offfor one thrilling momentbetween stations. The antiquated emergency brakes, relatively low ceiling fans, and insistently closing doors all mark a charming but less foolproof era.

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To ensure subway riders don’t play a game of chicken with the subway doorsas current cars allow and present-day commuters routinely testMTA operators are stationed in every car of the Shoppers Special. The ceiling fans and air vents provide excellent ventilation and a whoosh feeling of truly traveling that is missing from the current enclosed subway cars. That may be in part because the doors between cars are left open on the Shoppers Special, to encourage riders to cross over and continue their journey between eras.

While most of the train cars are from the 1930s and 1940s, one car looks noticeably different: because it was designed to look noticeably different. Car No. 1575 looks more contemporary because it was a prototype, meant to replace the older cars that compose the rest of the throwback train. It’s still a noticeable departure from the current subway car, however.

Commissioned for the Independent Subway System (IND) and operating for over 40 years, the R1/9 cars that comprise ⅞ of the Shoppers Special are the basis for the current subway car R160 model, and even the upcoming R211 cars. The durability of the R1/9 model cars is evident in their long run, and in the smooth ride enjoyed by modern straphangers: a mixed bag comprised of surprised New Yorkers, New Yorkers in the know (some even dressed for the occasion in period wear), tourists, and many delighted children.

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The popularity of this yearly tradition demonstrates the public’s avid interest in an older New York, documented by projects like the Tenement Museum. The New York Transit Museum gives a good glimpse of what commuting might have looked like in the early or mid-20th century. This photo tour by Business Insider serves as a quick introduction. Articles by Smithsonian and Untapped Cities describe additional hidden wonders and subway secrets:

  • abandoned subway stations/platforms/levels
  • the underwater graves of subway cars
  • a long-running subway beauty pageant
  • a pneumatic subway car that stretched one city block
  • armored Money Trains that carried subway fare money to a secret room in Brooklyn for counting
  • a fake Brooklyn townhouse that functions as a ventilation shaft and emergency subway exit
  • the Signal Learning Center at 14th Street station
  • a small, subway-accessible NYPL branch
  • the entrance to the historic Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square station
  • the Masstransiscope art installation at the abandoned Myrtle Ave subway station
  • a bedecked private subway car–every commuter’s fever dream

Interest in such an integral New York institution will never abate. So the next time you’re riding the subway, consider that your car may host a nostalgia ride 50 years from now…