By Joy Bergmann
Fresh Direct operations honcho Ian Moran was likely wishing for deliverance of a different sort while fielding questions about his company’s business model from Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee Tuesday evening.
“Could your business exist if you were operating according to our traffic laws?” asked committee member Richard Robbins.
Robbins, other CB7 members and local residents have criticized Fresh Direct’s “depot” distribution model in which 24-foot trucks occupy commercial parking spaces for long periods – up to 8 hours – while runners distribute groceries in a multi-block radius.
Fresh Direct has three such depots on the UWS. Though the exact spots rotate, trucks tend to cluster near 108th and Amsterdam, 87th and Broadway, and 60th and Broadway, the company said.
Given that commercial parking regulations limit such spots to stays of one or sometimes three hours, and Fresh Direct trucks occupy the spaces for much longer, running diesel-powered refrigeration units throughout that time, “Could your business exist if you weren’t doing that?” repeated Robbins.
“Absolutely not,” said Moran. But, “the alternative is I put nine (smaller, 16-foot, single-worker, routed) trucks on the side streets,” for every depot truck. This smaller truck model would be similar to what UPS uses and would result in multiple trucks needing to double-park during an eight-hour shift.
A lengthy discussion regarding the “new math” of these logistical choices ensued. WSR has chosen not to attempt to transcribe it other than to echo committee member Suzanne Robotti’s assessment, “It’s trucked up!” Interested readers may view it starting at time-code 2:11:10 of the meeting video here.
Plenty of Upper West Siders clearly love Fresh Direct’s convenience and just-in-time freshness. Commercial loading zone capacity has not kept up with our Internet economy’s expanding delivery demands. The company has “looked into” possibly renting storefronts to serve as its depots. But, as committee co-chair Daniel Zweig pointed out, those are zoned for retail establishments, not warehouses.
Moran emphasized Fresh Direct’s desire to be an asset to the community. With the depot model, “We’ve reduced the number of trucks on the streets, contributing less emissions, reducing congestion and noise,” he said, adding that his trucks do not idle, have technology that shuts off engines after three minutes. Any drivers who idle face termination. The noise people might hear from trucks is the sound of a separate, smaller engine powering the refrigeration unit, he said.
CB7 member Mark Diller took issue with that, saying the company is violating the spirit of the idling law by running a refrigerator that may create more emissions than, say, a passenger car with an idling motor.
“We are 100 percent compliant with the idling laws as written,” countered Moran.
Moran conceded that parking violations are the cost of doing business with the depot model. When commercial loading zones have time limits, “We try to stick to that. And when we fail, we get a ticket…an expense we’d rather not have.” But also a lesser expense than ordinary folks might pay for a similar infraction.
Not mentioned during the meeting was Fresh Direct’s participation in the city’s “Stipulated Fine Program”, which – according to proposed legislation to end it – is a two-tiered justice system for parking tickets allowing commercial vehicles to be fined at reduced or even zero rates, if companies agree not to contest the tickets.
“Like many New York City companies, we are involved in the program,” confirmed Amanda Cortese Vogel, a public relations director at Fresh Direct. The company would not disclose the number of tickets it received in 2015.
Committee co-chair Andrew Albert attempted to bring the group to some cohesive conclusions, “We’ve raised a lot of good issues here.” Albert urged the three attending Fresh Direct representatives to, “Make it more school friendly and neighborhood friendly. Vary the (depot) locations. And tell drivers not to double-park.”
Richard Robbins found such directives inadequate. “We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to those violating our laws and driving our supermarkets out of business.”
Supermarkets, Robbins noted, that pay rent. By his math, each depot truck consumes 256 square feet of streetscape [24 foot trailer, 8 foot cab, 8 feet wide]. With commercial rents running at $250 per square foot, he calculated that each truck would be paying $64,000 a month in rent if operating as a retail enterprise.