Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Grate Scott!

This was the view out our window Saturday morning.

At first we were baffled.

But we came to learn that under that snow, within the rectangle of yellow safety tape, is a metal grate.

As of Tuesday morning, the car and the cones are still there.


Read on:

Con Ed pays 'em to sit on grates

Livery drivers making a bundle to guard dangerous city hot spots

Cabbie Zafrul Islam holds letter explaining why he's guarding manhole in Brooklyn.

Con Edison has come up with a bizarre way to protect the public from stray-voltage hot spots throughout the city - it's hiring livery cab drivers to guard them until crews can fix the problem.

The dark cars and their drivers sit next to a roped-off area around the clock for days, with a placard explaining their mission.

"A stray voltage hazard was discovered here," the card says. "The coned/taped off area contains an extremely dangerous electrified object or structure.

"I am unable to move my vehicle because I am guarding this coned/taped off area from pedestrians."

The utility said the program started about six months ago and about 1,000 drivers from various livery companies are involved.

Previously, when Con Ed was alerted to a stray-voltage area - which can deliver a deadly shock to people and pets - it had one of its own cars protect the site.

But high-tech vans that roam the city looking for electrified pavement are finding so many danger zones that Con Ed had to enlist outside help, said spokesman Chris Olert.

He referred to the livery hacks as "site-safety" personnel who have been specially "trained."

But the training consists of being told to keep people away from the cordoned-off area.

"I just watch and make sure no one goes near it," said Zafrul Islam, 42, a driver for Executive Transportation in Borough Park, who has sat sentry over stray current in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

Yesterday, his dark-blue Lincoln Town Car was stationed near a 5-foot power grate on 11th St. near Third Ave. in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where a 16-volt leak had been discovered.

Annoyed neighborhood residents said cabs had been stationed there since Thursday evening.

"It's a gimmick," railed Cosimo Catanzano, 80, whose home is directly across from the faulty grate.

The curbside was blocked off with four construction cones and yellow safety tape. Islam's car had another cone on its roof - and its constant presence had alarmed locals.

"I called 911," said Rosemary Snyder, 58. "Don't you think ConEd should have let us know instead of letting a stranger sit outside like that?"

Maryann Slattery, 32, called the situation "ridiculous."

"Con Ed wants to raise our rates but they have the money to pay for a private car service? We have a lot of children and a lot of dogs. Why can't they send someone to actually fix it?"

Con Ed, which is spending $4million on the entire stray-voltage program, could not say how much it costs to have cabs baby-sit.

But if the power company were paying market rates of $30 an hour and up, the bill would be at least $720 per day per site.

The utility also said it did not know how many cab companies were hired by its subcontractor, Sarnoff Co., how many spots they've guarded since the program started, or how long it takes to fix each spot.

Sarnoff makes the vans ConEd uses to detect stray voltage. Last year, those vans found 1,969 hot spots, while manual detection turned up another 914.

Just four months into this year, the vans have already identified about 1,500 stray-voltage sites, Olert said.

Roger Lane, whose daughter, Jodie, was electrocuted in the East Village in 2004, was surprised to hear about Con Ed's new fleet of lookouts - but glad they were at least doing something to keep people away.

"Cones and cabs, policemen and firemen - whoever they put there that will protect the pedestrian from inadvertently walking on top of it is fine with me," he said.

With Tracy Connor


UPDATE 2/27/08 At around midnight, there still seemed to be no progress. Livery cab company still raking in the bucks for watching this rectangle of pavement! God Bless America!

But then, a large pick-up truck appeared, and the driver talked for a while with the cab driver, talked on his cell phone, stood inside the forbidden golden rectangle (gasp!). When I went to bed, finally, the truck was still idling out front. At 5 AM, when I woke up, everything had vanished. Cones, car, stray voltage (apparently). It was as if it was all a long, bizarre 3-day dream......

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