New Study: The Parking Placard On That Car Is Probably Illegal

Only a minority of the placards on the street are being used legally, according to a new Transportation Alternatives report.

What happens when you put a police station, a courthouse, and borough hall in one place? Utter lawlessness.

In a new report [PDF], Transportation Alternatives looked at the dashboards of the vehicles parked in the civic centers of each borough. In areas just a few blocks wide, hundreds of vehicles were displaying placards boasting of their special parking privileges. Fifty-seven percent of them were being used illegally.

In Concourse Village in the Bronx, for example, half of the 262 placards on display in a mere five block area were legitimate permits improperly being used to park, perhaps in a no standing zone or on the sidewalk. The other half were simply fake: they were handed out by the police union, a photocopy of another placard, or an item like an NYPD patrol manual that implies that the owner is a cop.

In Manhattan’s civic center, the problem was even worse. Only eleven out of 244 placards on display in a thirteen block area were being used legally.

At a press conference in front of City Hall today, T.A. joined with Council Members Dan Garodnick, Leroy Comrie, and Margaret Chin to call for an end to placard abuse. One top priority is Garodnick’s bill to put bar codes on official placards in order to make it easy for traffic enforcement agents to know with just a scan whether a placard is real and being used legitimately.

“It’s dangerous,” said T.A. executive director Paul Steely White. “When motorists are parking in front of fire hydrants, in front of crosswalks, on sidewalks, they’re blocking emergency vehicles from getting through. They’re making life very difficult and dangerous for pedestrians in particular.” Placard abuse also contributes to congestion by giving a sizable population free parking wherever they like.

Garodnick argued that putting bar codes on placards would not only give traffic agents the information they need to enforce the law, it would also empower them to take on the privileged placard-holders by creating a bright line rule. “Parking permits denote a level of prestige and privilege and many traffic agents do not want to risk running up against someone in a position of power,” said Garodnick. “If there’s no bar code, there’s no reason not to write a ticket for a parking offense.”

Garodnick’s bill currently has 21 sponsors. Though a hearing has not yet been scheduled for the bill, said Garodnick, Transportation Committee chair Jimmy Vacca has expressed interest in holding one.

“This is a commonsense bill,” said Comrie. “Our retail centers are losing available parking because of people that are parked all day while they’re walking less than half a block to get to their jobs.” In Jamaica, which Comrie represents, the T.A. study found that 59 percent of placards were being used illegally.

Small business owners from St. George and Atlantic Avenue joined Comrie in attacking placard abuse for making it hard to get deliveries and for customers to reach their stores safely on foot or easily in a car. “Our neighborhood has become a park-and-ride,” said St. George gallery owner Theo Dorian.

“For many years, activists in Chinatown have been fighting against all this placard parking,” said Chin. “Let’s get this bill passed.”

While the bar code bill would help cut down on placard abuse, change can’t happen until the police department decides to change its priorities. Adding barcodes won’t make it any more obvious that placard holders can’t park in front of a fire hydrant, for example, nor will it stop the police from passing over cars displaying a “clergy” sign that doesn’t purport to be an official placard in the first place.

Garodnick also called for further reductions in the number of official placards handed out in the first place. Though the Bloomberg administration reduced the number of placards it issued by roughly 40 percent, there are still seventy-eight thousand legal placards out there. “Seventy-eight thousand seems like an awfully high number,” said Garodnick. T.A.’s study was an update of its previous two investigations of placard abuse, Uncivil Servants and Above the Law.

  • vnm

    I think the barcode idea is great. But is it effective against photocopies?

  • The Truth

    The barcode idea isn’t bad… but the real problem is the straight-up corruption in the NYPD.

    Any moron can tell these people are parking illegally. The NYPD simply won’t hold any of them accountable, because they’re fully participating in the corruption.

    Until integrity is imposed on the NYPD, don’t expect to see any results.

  • You really want to get this issue resolved? Make it a law that the placard abuse fines can be levied by ANY CITIZEN WITH A MOBILE CAMERA. With the citizen collecting a share of the fine. That will get placard abuse to decline very quickly. See. Click. Fix. Profit.

  • Yes. The traffic agent can check it using a handheld to see if it’s expired or on the wrong car.

  • Yes. The traffic agent can check it using a handheld to see if it’s expired or on the wrong car.

  • Yes. The traffic agent can check it using a handheld to see if it’s expired or on the wrong car.

  • Tsuyoshi

    I don’t see why anyone should be able to park for free. Get rid of the placards entirely.

  • moocow

    78,000??!!??!?

  • joby

    @vnm – Barcode + RFID would help solve that. As far as cost, why not make people pay for the new placards? There’s no law that says you have to have a car, so if you choose to drive to work pay for the placard.
    @ocshwar – brilliant idea. I love it.

  • Call me crazy, but aren’t these silly placards just a way of preventing one city agency from paying another city agency? Who cares! Eliminate all the placards and have City Hall implement an internal process for reimbursing the parking ticket. (ie, an employee expense reimbursement.)

  • Pete

    In the case of bogus placards, how about just arresting drivers for falsifying government documents. It is what they’re doing, after all.

    None of this will ever happen, of course. Those that are responsible for enforcing the law are beholden to the unions that benefit from this law. I’m of the opinion that short of laying land mines in those spots, it’s an unsolvable problem. Petty dictators love their perks, and they view this as one of them. They’ll likely fight over this far more vigorously than they’d every fight over anything that would actually benefit the community.

  • J:Lai

    Make traffic enforcement an independent agency from the NYPD.
    Give TEAs the power to make arrests, and arm them.
    OR
    authorize “privateer” tow trucks to impound vehicles with illegal placards and keep a share of any revenue.

  • Anonymous

    Yup. Ever since enforcement went from DOT to NYPD, placard abuse has gone through the roof.

  • I used to work around the corner from the Police Athletic League office on E12 St. PAL employees (not police) would often park all day in the loading zones on University Place, contributing to the daily gridlock. I asked my boss if maybe we should talk to them about using one of the nearby parking garages.

    She said that they don’t make enough money to pay for a garage. I said “Neither do I, that is way I take the subway. If I had a free spot, I would buy a car.”

  • I am not gonna call you crazy, but this is a way to give free parking for a certain class of employees.

  • Crickets from the Times, I suppose?

  • Mike
  • Anonymous

    There has to be some mechanism for ensuring that the regulations are enforced, though. If the traffic enforcement people aren’t audited they will still look the other way rather than face possible retribution from a cop who can look up their name in the database, esp since these tickets are going to be harder to fix now.

  • MRN

    There’s nothing illegal about an “illegal” placard, ultimately, it’s just a slip of paper. It’s up to the TEA to make a determination if the bearer does indeed have any privileges and enforce as necessary.

  • MRN

    There’s nothing illegal about an “illegal” placard, ultimately, it’s just a slip of paper. It’s up to the TEA to make a determination if the bearer does indeed have any privileges and enforce as necessary.

  • TheTimeVortex

    Problem with that is people would find a way to do fraud, framing people for profit or possibly to get revenge on their neighbors for some real or perceived slight.

  • ahwr

    So they’d break into people’s cars and put a fake placard inside?

  • TheTimeVortex

    some people are just insane… Not saying all, or many, just a tiny percentage, but with a large population, who knows… (Not sure how it is in New York, but where I live) there’s people who don’t lock their cars, too

  • ahwr

    Everyone locks their cars. If the picture shows a broken window then you can void the ticket.