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When People Don't Shovel

February 15th, 2013
ideas, snow  [html]

It recently snowed a lot here. Most people have shoveled their sidewalks, but many are still impassible. There are fines for not shoveling, for example, in Medford the law is that if you leave snow for at least
...six hours during the daytime, he shall forfeit and pay the sum of $25.00 for the first offense and $50.00 for each successive day that the sidewalk shall continue to be encumbered. (Code of Ordinances, 74-114)
People are rarely fined for not shoveling, however, and so enough sections of sidewalk are left with snow on them that you pretty much need to just walk in the street. Instead of fines, what if we let people go around with shovels, document their work, bill the town, and the cost would be added to the owner's property taxes? The shoveler would be entitled to however much the owner would have been responsible for in fines.

Here's one way this could be implemented:

  • Property owners have X hours after it finishes snowing to clear their sidewalks.
  • Someone who wants to work doing unsolicited shoveling needs a smartphone. They download an app, register with the government, read a summary of the rules and maybe have a short comprehension test.
  • Before going out to work shoveling you would check with the app whether it had been long enough after the storm that people have to have finished shoveling. This could work by the town entering into a statewide system "this is the time the storm stopped in our town" and then counting down X hours from there.
  • Before starting shoveling at a place you take a bunch of pictures with the app. It uploads them immediately to the government. You have to do this to get paid.
  • When you're done shoveling you take more pictures, and you drag your finger along a map of the sidewalk to indicate where you shoveled. Maybe the app also collects gps logs?
  • The goverment sends you money.
  • The goverment sends a notice to the owner of the house, with a link to the pictures, so if they need to dispute anything they can.
  • The cost of the shoveling is added on to the property taxes for the house.
I don't like that it's dependent on having a smartphone. You could have a website and use a stand-alone camera for uploading pictures, but that would be more awkward and you'd have more fraud problems (especially timing disputes).

(I say "shoveling", but probably people would mostly use snowblowers.)

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