The New York City War on Tennis: Mayor Bloomberg Bans Smoking and Sodas, But Taxes Those Who Want to Stay Fit

While everyone's talking about the War on Women, I want to shed light on another war: New York City's War on Tennis Players.

While it may be more of a European past-time than an American one, tennis has always been my most beloved sport to play: The workout, the intensity, the one-on-one (or two-on-two) components ... I could go on and on.

And with pride, I estimate that 98% of my playing has been done on public courts.

After failing to make it to any local New York City courts this summer, a friend and I decided to play. 

This isn't as easy as it sounds.

In New York, you cannot just play tennis on a whim. Nope, you need a permit. And there are two options: a $200 permit valid from April through November, or a one-hour, $15 permit.

Then, you have two more options: either purchase permits at the one or two locations in each borough that sells them (though they're not at the courts), or order one online and wait for a week while it's mailed to you.

(If you ever dreamed to experience a life like that of Kafka's Josef K. in the 21st Century, then attempting to play tennis on New York's public courts is surely your best option.)

Plus, there aren't any mobile apps for booking courts! Parks Department spokesman Philip Abramson wrote me over e-mail, "We have launched a pilot program for online tennis reservations. It is in its early phases of development and we hope to further enhance it with additional services in the future. We don’t have any developments to speak of at this time regarding a mobile app." So much for New York being a technology hub or having a "Chief Digital Officer" to make life easier. Blah!

Plus, tennis fees are up by 100% since 2010. The New York City Parks Department's First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh told me, “Prior to 2011, tennis fees had not seen an increase since 2003 ... While we recognize that this increase may be unpopular to some, we believe it is fair and necessary.  The increase in permit fees goes towards the city's general fund which helps pay for services such as teachers, police, and sanitation, as well as our parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, ball-fields and tennis courts.”

Because of the aforementioned 100% price increases, far fewer people are playing tennis, even though Mayor Bloomberg wants us all to be healthy and fit while not smoking anywhere and never drinking soda.

In 2010, when a full season tennis permit was sold for $100 for those aged 18-64, and $10 for anyone older than 64, the city sold 12,416 adult permits, 4,2032 senior permits, and 40,778 single play permits.

Yet in 2011, when the fees were massively increased to $200 for those aged 18-64, and $20 for anyone older than 64, only 7,411 adults bought permits (and 5,202 seniors, perhaps on post-Recession highs).

This amounts first to a tax on working-age people, who are paying substantially higher prices for the same services. A 90% senior discount? That's ludicrous. If diners or movie theaters and theme parks offered 90% off year-round, they'd be out of business. Plus, retirees presumably have a lot more time to play tennis (ahem, 9-5 Monday through Friday), so they've also got way more access to facilities than working people and students.

Therefore, to presumably appeal to older voters, who vote at much higher rates than young people, Michael Bloomberg has created a de facto young person's and working person's tax on tennis. Per capita income in New York state only changed from $35,448 to $41,108 between 2003 and 2011, yet Bloomberg raised fees on tennis players by 100%. (Of course this is not a problem that a member of the 1% would deal with, as he and his chums just pay the $60-$120 hourly fees that are charged at private courts.)

This makes me wonder: Why doesn't New York charge people each and every time they play basketball or handball on public courts? Volleyball? Football? Why is there only a tennis tax?

Abramson explained, “Parks has a long tradition of charging for tennis permits to raise revenue for the city, just as there is a fee for leagues to play on ball-fields and for members of the public to use our indoor recreation centers.” 

Well, some traditions, like this one, should die.

The Parks Department did not answer my repeated attempts for comment about why non-league play in other sports is free while tennis courts are always charged for.

And what about low income people who want to play tennis? 

“There is no discount based on income but we do have the free and low cost programs for children,” said Abramson, referring to $10 per year access permits.

So while other sports are egalitarian, tennis is still a sport of the elite in New York, but for no good reason.

The middle class, working class, student class, and impoverished class of New York, I'm talking about the 99% here, should rise up against this punishing tax that prevents people from playing one of the greatest games on earth. Share this article and complain to your local City Council Member today!