Earlier this month, New Yorkers chose a new license plate. Based on the outcome of a five-way vote, it is difficult to tell whether or not participants — i.e., those of you who actually knew this was happening and chose to weigh in, which would not appear to be many of you — took the assignment seriously. Our new plates will feature a hodgepodge of familiar gift shop images, outfitted in opposing golds and blues. All of this is underpinned by the state motto, "Excelsior," done up in a disorienting typeface. A funny joke, maybe, until the motorists among you realize you will eventually have to buy one of these frankenplates, and perhaps sooner than expected: Starting this spring, drivers would have been required to turn in any license plates over 10 years old, and to pay $25 for the privilege.
Not a very popular plan, as it happens. According to a new Siena College poll, that requirement didn't sit well with most of you. New Yorkers oppose the obligation to give up their old plates by a 60 to 31 percent margin, and overwhelmingly, do not want to pay $25 for that crap. A full 75 percent of respondents felt the fee was unfair, versus 23 percent who were okay with it.
That's a pretty sizable majority, and maybe, just maybe, the reason why Governor Andrew Cuomo — who commissioned the new license plate contest, and came up with the replacement plan — appears to be backtracking. On Tuesday, Cuomo's spokesperson told the Times Union that, actually, the administration never set the plan in stone and was, in fact, still working with the Department of Motor Vehicles and legislators to figure out how to make all New York license plates roadworthy.
"As the DMV commissioner said weeks ago, this proposal isn't going forward as we have committed to working with the Legislature to create a plan that ensures plates are readable by law enforcement and cashless tolling systems and creates a process where plates older than 10 years are inspected and, if still readable, can be kept," Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi told the Times Union.
So, as you can see, definitely not a reaction to the Siena College survey — although Azzopardi did take care to criticize its license plate question as "outdated." But maybe "outdated" isn't quite the right word, either; maybe "incomplete" is more apt. Because pollsters do not seem to have asked members of the survey pool if they would have felt better about shelling out for a more attractive license plate, which (in my opinion at least) would have been any other option presented to us.
Just to jog your memory, in case you mostly missed this conversation, we were given five design choices. Four of those featured the Statue of Liberty in some capacity: Two made her the primary focus, and one shone the spotlight on her torch-lifting hand. Four incorporated both navy and yellow elements at a minimum, a palette some might describe as visually aggressive.
Only one design, the option that featured a bridge Cuomo recently renamed after his dad, was printed in pleasing, docile blues. Notably, this plate was also absent "Excelsior" and any iteration of Lady Liberty, a conspicuously understated option that led some to suspect that Cuomo had attempted to rig the vote in his father's favor. Because who would want any of these vaguely cacophonous plates when they could have a nice, soothing skyscape? Whose eye wouldn't gravitate to the one design that bears no resemblance to its littermates?
Most people, as it turns out. Only 9.7 percent of voters opted for the Mario Cuomo (Tappan Zee) Bridge, while nearly half went with the arguably throw-away option: The one with a bunch of New York's landmarks and not-quite-landmarks crammed into a single frame. From left to right, you see Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, and lower Manhattan's skyline — complete with a lighthouse NYC doesn't even have (this particular beacon lives Montauk) looming shiftily in the corner.
It's a weird scene, and a busy one. When you look at it, do you feel satisfaction? How have you slept soundly since the big vote? Are you happy with your choices? Were you, before you knew bolting it to your car could cost you $25?
Maybe those regrets you're feeling, the guilt that's keeping you up at night, stems from your decision to sit this one out: Only 10 percent of New Yorkers surveyed in the Siena College poll said they voted on our new plates, while one third (!) said they knew it was happening but did not participate. Meaning we have no one to blame here but ourselves. Meaning next time, we should maybe all just do our civic duty and take it seriously, even when it's an apparently low-stakes contest.