The next time you’re in a part of town where a lot of city employees work, take a look at the dashboards of cars occupying curbside parking spots. In neighborhoods across the city, you’ll see bogus placards that parking cheats use to evade meters and other regulations. In a two-part series, WNBC’s Tom Llamas traveled to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and St. George on Staten Island to document the problem. He found that while officials at the top know the abuse is wrong, NYPD parking enforcement regularly turns a blind eye on the street.
Many city employees see free on-street storage of their private cars as a perk of the job. “Because we work for the city, why should we pay?” Tara Jones, a children’s services employee on Staten Island, told WNBC. “Do policemen pay for meters? Do firemen pay for meters? No.”
Most other placard abusers Llamas interviewed on the street remained nameless and either lied on camera about paying or were shamed into feeding the meter, perhaps because they knew what they were doing is wrong. After all, free street parking isn’t an entitlement, it’s a land grab that’s hurting local businesses and residents.
“Merchants here cannot find parking for themselves, for their customers, and it really hurts them as small business owners,” said Josef Szende, executive director of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District. A FedEx driver double-parked on Atlantic told Llamas that “it’s impossible” to find a legal space to make deliveries in the area.
“It’s disheartening because it’s so blatant. Everyone in the community knows they can’t park here,” said Robert Honor, who owns a wine shop in St. George, where parking abuse is a long-standing problem. Only 10 of the 89 parked cars inspected by WNBC displayed meter receipts, and those without proof of payment went without tickets.
While surveys of retail districts around the city show that most customers don’t arrive in private cars, placard abuse leads customers who do drive to clog up streets as they search for an open spot. And that can foil the city’s attempts to reform curbside parking prices.
At the Atlantic Avenue BID’s request last year, DOT implemented its PARK Smart program, which adjusts parking meter rates to improve parking availability and cut down on cruising for spots. But Department of Corrections employees at a jail in Boerum Hill have been hogging spaces near Atlantic Avenue, using invalid placards, union cards, employee handbooks, Corrections Department baseball caps, and coat patches — none of which are supposed to provide free parking.
The lawbreaking is flagrant, but WNBC caught NYPD parking enforcement agents repeatedly looking in the windows of cars with bogus placards and walking right by. “Are you not supposed to write tickets for people that have placards or the union cards? What’s going on?” Llamas asked, as the agent ignored him.
“If it’s happening, it should not be, and if our agents are ignoring it, they should not be,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton after Llamas asked him about placard abuse. But he seemed resigned to placard abuse as a fact of life: “In terms of totally eliminating the problem, I don’t think that’s doable in the foreseeable future.”
Efforts to crack down on placard scofflaws gained steam a few years ago, but the problem persists. Even so, placard abuse has largely escaped the City Council’s attention in its recent attempts to score populist points over parking. It’s worth a reminder that placard abuse also gets New Yorkers’ blood boiling — and doing something about it will make the city better for car owners and the city’s car-free majority alike.