NYPD on Parking Perks for Press: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

The City Council’s attempt to return parking privileges to the New York press corps faces opposition, ironically enough, from the New York City Police Department.

Intro. 779, sponsored by transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and 34 of his colleagues, would allow people with press-designated license plates from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut to “park where parking or standing is otherwise prohibited except where standing or stopping is prohibited to all motor vehicles” without any time limit or payment, so long as the driver is “engaged in the covering of a news event or matter of public concern.”

A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer
A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer

While the bill would not provide physical parking placards for press vehicles, the effect would essentially be the same. There are supposed to be limits on the parking privileges conferred by placards, but in practice, placards are routinely abused as a blanket exemption from all parking laws.

“Let me make it clear, our members are not looking for some sort of perk. This is about allowing working journalists to more efficiently relay information to the people of New York City,” said Steve Scott of the New York Press Club. “We can’t do that if we’re circling the block looking for a place to park.”

The press was explicitly given a similar privilege until 2009, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg stripped it as part of a general cutback on placard distribution. Currently, vehicles with state-issued “New York Press” license plates may park in certain press-designated parking zones. Members of the media at today’s hearing conceded they already count on lenient traffic enforcement agents to give them a pass when they park illegally.

The agency with the most placards is NYPD, whose officers have made a laughingstock of the current system by parking their personal vehicles anywhere with impunity, with or without official placards. So it was more than a little ironic that NYPD Inspector Dennis Fulton opposed the expansion of parking perks at today’s City Council transportation committee meeting.

Fulton’s argument, nevertheless, was spot on. He said the legislation would be “impossible” to enforce. “The police department is concerned that it would be very difficult for a police officer or traffic enforcement agent in the field, after having observed a vehicle parked in a prohibited space or with an expired meter, to determine whether the vehicle is covering a legitimate ‘news event or matters of public concern,’ and is thus parked illegally,” Fulton told the committee.

He added that the law has the “potential to lead to abuses by those who seek to obtain unlimited parking privilege while on personal business.” The same could also be said, of course, about the current placard system that city employees abuse every day.

The bill is conspicuously out-of-step with most of Rodriguez’s transportation policy agenda. (Much of the morning was spent touting the upcoming “Car Free Earth Day” initiative). But he defended parking as a “right” for reporters hurrying to cover breaking news.

In his opening statement, Rodriguez touted a reform proposed by Council Member Dan Garodnick, which would cut down on fraudulent parking placards by equipping official placards with barcodes that enforcement agents could verify. But he argued that his legislation was important for ensuring the press can do its job effectively. “We should not be making parking easier for people as this will further incentivize car usage,” Rodriguez said. “However, members of the press do a special job and, it can be argued, are often as important to have on the scene of an emergency as first responders, as information is key to the public.”

  • “However, members of the press do a special job…”

    Let’s call bullshit on this, please.

    Home healthcare aides and Early Intervention therapists do a special job, often have to live far from where they work, and frequently visit clients or patients in places that aren’t convenient to get to via transit. Do they get expanded parking privileges? Where does this logic end? Or is it that politicians like getting favorable news coverage and other people with “special” jobs don’t have the same kind of influence as the press corps?

    This is pandering, pure and simple. I’m disappointed to see otherwise progressive City Council members sponsoring this legislation. And for Rodriguez to do it on the same day he’s promoting his car-free initiative is just the height of hypocrisy. It undermines his entire effort.

  • Joe R.

    Besides that, so long as the press continues to get around almost exclusively by motor vehicle they’ll continue to report things from a windshield perspective. Maybe in the past you had a valid excuse in that the equipment was too heavy to lug around on foot. However, nowadays you can have 4K video capability literally in your pocket.

  • I work in TV and there are plenty of times when a car is absolutely necessary for lugging equipment and crew.

    But the idea that one needs a placard to cover the news doesn’t hold water. If it’s the kind of emergency where a reporter’s presence on the scene adds value to the public’s understanding of what’s happening, such a situation would probably be worth the risk of a ticket.

    The press has not had these exact kind of privileges for some time now. Has it hindered the public understanding of breaking news?

  • Jesse

    The fact that people ask for special concessions really just means we should flip the presumption of on-street parking: you may not park on the street unless you are providing some special service. Instead the default is we just give parking away to anyone who has a car.

  • Joe R.

    If we didn’t allow free curbside parking on virtually every foot of every street parking for the press would be a non-issue. They could just sit in what is normally a loading zone to cover the news.

    As an aside, I’m seeing really good quality HD and 4K video made on phones these days. Exactly what equipment does the press use which requires a vehicle to lug around? A second question might be if some of this equipment is still huge, why hasn’t anyone offered downsized versions which can be hand-carried? Seems like there would be a huge advantage to that even from a news gathering perspective. Imagine if in NYC a reporter can get on scene first via bicycle (often the fastest way to get around NYC) with equipment to cover the event.

  • HamTech87

    We should suggest Parking Reform as a solution, not perks. Price the curb so that there is always one or two spots available on every block. Can’t we show the press the Streetfilm featuring Donald Shoup?

    http://www.streetfilms.org/illustrating-parking-reform-with-dr-shoup/

  • BrandonWC
  • kevd

    “If we didn’t allow free curbside parking on virtually every foot of every street parking for the press would be a non-issue.”
    Right, then they and UPS and Fed Ex could simply pay for it. Problem solved.

    Then the rest of the stuff you say is frankly, comically ill-informed. Please, stick to stuff you have even the vaguest clue about.

  • Kevin Love

    Which is why the car-free zones of European and Asian cities are all news-free blackout zones… oh wait…

  • Joe R.

    Electronics happens to be my occupation. I’m just applying what I know is happening in virtually every facet of electronics, specifically the same functionality in ever smaller form factors, and wondering why I see news crews carrying around cameras the size of a microwave oven. It’s especially puzzling to me when smart phones have decent 4K video capability, along with SD cards which can store literally hours of such video. I might understand a more advanced camera with more features and more storage being somewhat larger, perhaps the size/weight of a 1980s era camcorder, but I’m frankly puzzled by what I see. I’m even more puzzled by the “need” to have van loads of equipment. Exactly what kind of equipment? How much of it is really needed for day-to-day news coverage? And why can’t it be downsized also so one or two news people can carry it on bikes? If you can answer my questions then please do so. If not, at least refrain from unfounded criticisms of my areas of expertise.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    A good argument can be made that cargo bikes can easily carry everything a TV crew needs instead of a van plus bikes travel faster in Manhattan as well as much of Brooklyn. No need for placards 🙂

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freight_bicycle

  • kevd

    You can’t stream broadcast quality video over 4G networks. Do you realize the data rate of broadcast HD video?
    Perhaps when a new generation of data coverage exists then journalist won’t need satellite trucks for live broadcasts. But for now, they do. Even in places with good data coverage. (which NY is not, in my experience).

    Do you think you’re the first person to think “hey, smaller cameras would be nice!”. You don’t think that there are hundreds if not thousands of engineers at Sony, Panasonic, Black Magic and Red downsizing cameras every single year?
    Of course there are.
    But, the problem is not one of electronics, because obviously those components have shrunk dramatically over the past 20 years (well, over the entire history of video). Rather the problem is one of optics. If you want to capture an image that doesn’t have a near infinite depth of field you need a larger chip, and larger lenses. Also, if you want to record broadcast quality sound you need a microphones. Not just a lavs but a boom as well, and a hand held for stand-ups – oh, and most importantly, a highly skilled sound recordist whose only job is sound.
    So now you have one camera person with a decent sized camera, plus lenses, plus batteries to power the camera, plus a bunch of cards on which to capture that video; a sound recordist with microphones an a boom and audio monitors and a whole bunch of cables connecting everything. Oh yeah, also you probably have lights so the the subjects aren’t covered in shadows. Oh, an you’ve got a reporter and a producer overseeing the whole thing.

    Let’s not forget that all this equipment adds up to 10s of thousands of dollars -if not more- so you can’t just leave the stuff you aren’t using on a bike to be stolen – and there WILL be stuff you aren’t using because every bit of equipment is not suited for ever situation. So that other stuff actually has to be locked up, unless you expect news organizations to replace their equipment daily.

    Then everything has to be sent back to the studio. Perhaps for non-live packages that could be done over current data networks, but certainly not for anything live, because of the data rates. I can barely stream highly compressed, crappy-looking youtube on 4G.

    When stories actually do require reporters to move immediately to get to a scene, that is exactly what happens. On foot, by subway and yes, even by bike. But, only when a story is so big and so important that image and sound quality are thrown out the window.
    Events like 9-11.

    We could get into whether or not most of the crap shown on local news really “needs” to be shown live. But, let’s assume that at least some of it does. For that to happen, you still need a van, firstly to carry equipment (that still needs to be somewhat large for reasons of optics more than electronics), secondly to prevent that equipment from being stolen and thirdly to send the video back to the studio.

    Perhaps that will change in the future.
    Perhaps not.
    But, the thing is, we HAVE a solution for the problem, now.
    You hit upon it in your first sentence.

    “If we didn’t allow free curbside parking on virtually every foot of every street parking for the press would be a non-issue.”

    Ding Ding!
    No reason to completely re-engineer broadcast news.

  • Smaller camera sizes and cargo bikes don’t seem like winning arguments. Simple fact: some people need to drive. Fine. But do they need special parking privileges or the right to park in spots that are otherwise off-limits to everyone else? Arguably not.

  • Joe R.

    I suspect data transmission will eventually be a non-issue as technology improves wireless data transmission. I don’t have a timeline for that, but I know lots of people are working very hard to overcome the limits of wireless data transmission.

    As for the rest, I’ll have to compare some you-tube 4K video shot be an amateur with a smart phone to a typical news broadcast. The skeptic in me says the average person doesn’t view these things using equipment where they would notice the difference. For example, TWC compresses the crap out of HD, probably negating any benefit of professional recording equipment on the other end. Of course, I can see some value in shooting news events to a higher quality for purely archival purposes.

    I don’t know enough about optics to say whether or not that can be minaturized also. I do know they’ve done some interesting stuff with signal processing which gets quite a bit out of the small optics present in smart phones. Then again, signal processing can only do so much (i.e. look at the difference between real optical zoom versus digital zoom).

    Yes, we have a potential solution to the problem now. My desire to reduce the need for news trucks has more to do with getting rid of the windshield perspective which often accompanies broadcast news than anything else. One great example is when we have a blizzard and I need to get somewhere next day. I (and I suspect most NYers) couldn’t care less about the state of the FDR and BQE. I want to know how mass transit is running. Often I’ll have to suffer through 15 minutes of reporting on road conditions before they get to that. If this were rural Nebraska I’d understand it but this is NYC. And I attribute this skewed perspective to the fact many news crews get around almost exclusively by motor vehicle.

  • “We can’t do that if we’re circling the block looking for a place to park.”

    Someone tell Steve about garages. Itll blow his mind

  • Daniel

    Even a few years ago there were multiple companies making backpack transmitters that sent live HD video back from the field by trunking a few radios together. They even accepted something like 20 SIMs so you could use be on multiple networks and use whichever tower had the best signal at moment to moment. I’ll give you lenses are not any lighter, but both camera backs and steady cam rigs are. — I’m not saying broadcasters should buy new equipment, those sat trucks are a sunk cost, and paying $2 to park a million dollar truck to report a story isn’t going to sink any broadcaster raking in billions a year. But you can’t deny the technology exists. For non-live stories NY1 has been sending reporters out alone on the subway with a backpack of equipment since the 1990’s. That tech is old enough to buy a drink.

  • Matt R

    Freedom of the press suddenly has a different ring to it. Next the average person will demand a bar code for those who shop. Or drunks who like to drink and drive- they should get a card because they shouldn’t have to expose more people to their dangerous driving. Or, you know, just say no? Ironic the police have an issue though.

  • Matt R

    I am starting a new media organization. I employee 5 million errrr reporters. Where are mine? I have important…. News to…. Um film.

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