Garodnick Proposes Bar Code Scanners to Curb Parking Placard Abuse

City Council Member Dan Garodnick has introduced a bill that could cut down on the abuse of fraudulent parking placards. The bill would require that city-issued placards be equipped with bar codes that traffic enforcement agents can scan to verify. If enacted, it should cut down on one form of placard abuse: the use of bogus laminated pieces of paper to park illegally with impunity.

A new bill could make it easier to discern official parking placards from fakes, like the one above. Photo: Noah Kazis

The Bloomberg administration substantially cut the number of city placards in 2008, after a concerted advocacy campaign to wrestle the proliferation of officially sanctioned parking perks — and all the traffic they cause — under control.

The potential for abuse is still high, though, since traffic enforcement agents are reluctant to ticket any vehicle that bears the stamp of official privilege. As Streetsblog has reported, there’s a whole cottage industry devoted to the manufacture of fake parking placards. Synagogue- and church-goers have shown no compunction about putting placard-esque items on their dashboards to get away with parking illegally.

Garodnick’s bar code proposal would help traffic enforcement agents tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake. “The idea is that this would make it easy for them to scan a placard, to remove the element of doubt when a TEA may be uncertain of whether this is a legitimate placard,” said Dan Pasquini, Garodnick’s communications director.

Other forms of placard abuse will be tougher to stamp out. The bar codes wouldn’t help agents muster the will to ticket vehicles with official placards parked in front of bus stops and fire hydrants, which are illegal spots no matter what’s on the dash.

The bill has been introduced in the transportation committee, where Garodnick’s office hopes to get a hearing soon.

  • Danny G

    Would it be crazy to have parking placards with GPS embedded, so the city can collect data on what kinds of trips are being made (destination, duration, etc.), similar to how bike share plans for NYC will have embedded GPS in order to optimize their deployment?

  • Thats actually a really good idea

  • Great idea. Also love Danny G’s.

  • As I said eight months ago,

    The reason placards work is because there is a class of automobilists who have successfully persuaded the authorities that they deserve the privilege of parking anywhere they like. This class includes police officers, ambulances, active-duty military, federal law enforcement, and doctors. Placard reform [or technology] can limit the abuses of this privilege (by other municipal workers and elected officials, say), but just getting rid of placards won’t make authorities any less reluctant to ticket cops or doctors.

  • You’d want GPS in the scanner. (They must have something similar already, to log tickets issued by location.) Then you can produce an audit log of who was parked where, when. You need that anyway for this to be effective, so that a duplicated placard code would show up as being two places at once.

  • tom

    Why not do what is done in Europe–contract it out? Deputy Mayor Goldsmith would love it!
    A private 3rd party would be contractually immunized from favoritism. Abusers would be afraid to abuse because they won’t be sure they will have to pay, or, be publicly exposed to on-job penalties for the abuse.
    Got to be better than what we have now.

  • Ian Turner

    Danny,

    I doubt it. GPS receivers would require battery power and represent a significant expense to producing a printed placard. In addition, GPS doesn’t work very well in garages high-rise areas, because quality GPS reception requires a relatively large swath of sky.

    If the city did decide to go down this route, a cheaper alternative might be a CDMA or GSM receiver, which would provide significantly less positional accuracy (say, a 500-meter radius), but would work even in garages and (I think) would consume less power than GPS. Also, having cell phone technology would allow the placard to report its position wirelessly, where GPS receivers cannot transmit.

    Of course, there are also privacy implications in asking government employees to allow the state to track their position even when they are not at work. Perhaps a compromise would be to allow the receiver to be disabled, but to have the placard only valid during times when the receiver is also turned on.

  • norwoodcitizen

    Jonathan,

    I beg to differ.

    The placards work because the authorities have decided the law does not apply to them. And our citizenry has been too complacent to hold them accountable.

  • Of course, there are also privacy implications in asking government employees to allow the state to track their position even when they are not at work.

    Who says they have to use the cars when they’re not at work?

  • Ian Turner

    Capn, these are personal cars we are talking about. Government cars don’t need placards, they generally can’t receive tickets anyway.

  • Andrew

    Why is this even necessary? Instruct TEA’s to ticket cars regardless of any apparent placard, and program the system to automatically dismiss tickets issued to vehicles parked in authorized locations (which might include designated permit-only parking areas but would never include bus stops, crosswalks, sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.).

    (Of course, this still doesn’t address the extreme reluctance TEA’s have toward ticketing cops. Even cops who park on the sidewalk know quite well that they’re not actually allowed to park on the sidewalk.)

  • Ah, yes, Ian, I forgot. Thanks.

  • Hmmmmm

    Good bill. Since it is still hard for them to muster towing them, why don’t the placards be required to be labelled with the following slogan, “Permission to tow vehicle if parked in bus stops or illegal spaces.”

    At least they would think before putting that puppy in the window.

  • -no need for GPS, RFID tags are what you want, the same kind of things that are used in many company ID cards to get you through doors.

    -cost is a couple of $
    -way harder to duplicate than bar codes. All bar codes is add a new feature to put on the placards, but unless they include registration numbers of the vehicles, meaningless.

    -easy for someone with a reader to check: scan the ID tag, hit the database to see if it is valid for the current area the scanner is in and the current date/time.

    -the scan event can be logged server-side to build up statistics on where individuals and groups with tags park and when

    We’ve proposed adding the same tags to resident parking permits for the same reason: hard to forge, easy to check, great source of data-mining information.

    Some people may view this as a privacy invasion, but hey, you get free parking, what more do you want?

    Incidentally, here in the UK we don’t have such free parking placards. Emergency services on call can park where they want, but that’s it.

  • NM

    Garodnick for president!

  • MRN

    An RFID is appropriate, but unfortunately, most placards in use in NYC are fake, so an identification technique won’t actually curb placard abuse.

  • Christopher Stephens

    The handheld devices the TEAs have already have a bar code scanner (that’s how they get the info from your registration sticker). Adding another form of technology, be it GPS or RFID, would require new hardware for several thousand agents. I’m guessing that the handhelds could be reprogrammed for much less money.

    Still, if GPS or whatever devices are installed on the permits, there’s one easy way to avoid privacy concerns: leave the permit at home or at the office if your car isn’t being driven on official business. Problem solved.

  • chopper

    What’s the point? All you need to avoid getting ticketed is a non-official/non-city issued Uniformed Fire Officers Association placard. We’ve got two of these arrogant boneheads in my neighborhood who have claimed the two No Standing Anytime curb spots as their personal parking places, from which they won’t even move for street cleaning on alternate side days. Never mind that drivers have to pull half way out into the intersection to see cross traffic thanks to their illegally parked cars.

  • chopper

    Adding: it’s illegal for even authorized city placard holders to park in a No Standing Anytime zone. The point is, if cops and Traffic won’t ticket even bogus placard owners for parking in those spaces now what good will a bar code do?

    What we need are sanctions against cops and Traffic agents who let them get away with this.

  • Fancy that… almost exactly what CB2 Manh. passed in a resolution back in November. We suggested RFID as a possibility as well. Hmmm…

  • Zenobiaznb

    GReat idea.

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