The $46 Million Parking Perk

The police tow one of their own in Chinatown on May 10, 2006. Community and business groups say that much of Lower Manhattan has become a free parking lot for government employees’ personal vehicles. (Photo: Geoff Lee)

Illegally parked government employees are subtracting $46 million a year in potential parking fees from New York City’s coffers, according to a new study by transportation consultant Bruce Schaller. Eliminating government employees parking perks would not only generate revenue for the city it would also help reduce traffic congestion.

Government workers, it turns out, are twice as likely to drive to work in the Manhattan central business district compared with private sector works. Why? "Free parking has a tremendous impact on the decision whether to drive or take transit," Schaller says.

Schaller’s analysis of 2000 Census data shows that if government workers commuted by auto at the same rate as their private sector counterparts, 19,200 fewer vehicles would enter Manhattan each day. The parking spaces freed up by these vehicles could generate $46 million annually in parking meter fees.

"You might think it’s the stock broker from Greenwich who drives to work," Schaller says. "In fact, they’re among the least likely people to drive to work. It’s the government employee with free parking in Manhattan who is most likely to drive."

In May, the NYPD began towing illegally parked private vehicles of government workers in Chinatown after two years of escalating complaints and a video expose produced by business and community groups with the help of Transportation Alternatives.

"They are the law enforcement people and they are breaking the law because they don’t give a [crap] about the Chinatown people," John Hong, a merchant, says in the video. "When they come in they act like they own the street."

Schaller’s study found that of the 177,300 government employees working in Manhattan south of 59th Street, 47,400 or 27 percent drive to work. By contrast, only 14 percent of private sector employees drive. Two-thirds of these government workers are employees of the City of New York. For these city workers, free parking amounts to a $35 million per year perquisite.

"Nearly all of these auto commuters have transit alternatives," Schaller says. Remarkably, he found that ninety-five percent of the government employees driving into Manhattan from Brooklyn and Staten Island live in neighborhoods where the majority of their neighbors use transit.

Not only would eliminating government workers’ free parking perk raise revenue for the city, Schaller believes that it would help reduce traffic congestion on and around the clogged East River Bridges since, for most commuters, "The thing that determines whether I can drive or take the train is if I can find free parking."

The Bloomberg administration could raise revenue for the city and reduce traffic congestion in one simple step, Schaller says, "just by reducing government employee permits."

During his 2001 mayoral campaign, Michael Bloomberg promised that if elected mayor he would curb privileged parking. "If the average person doesn’t have special parking privileges," Bloomberg said in a detailed July 2001 transportation policy paper," why should those work for us… have them?"

Today, many of the government parking permits that you see in windshields in Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn are forged or expired. "So, it’s not only getting rid of them, it’s about enforcing against forged permits too," Schaller says. But that, of course, is easier said than done. "Why would the city want to enforce against their own?"

For more detail: See Clarence Eckerson’s Streetfilm on illegal government parking in Chinatown, "Dirty Little Secret."

This police parking permit, found on an illegally parked vehicle in downtown Brooklyn, expired in February 2005.

This police officer doesn’t even have a forged or expired permit. A "NarcoPouch" and NYPD notebook on the dashboard apparently work just as well.

Triple-parked cops and judges across the street from the Bernard Kerik Complex, a.k.a. "The Tombs," in Lower Manhattan.

Judges and court officials using the sidewalk as their personal, private parking lot in Chinatown.

A Lower Manhattan playground entrance is blocked by illegally parked private vehicles of government employees.

  • Duke of Flatbush

    What about the cops and judges in Brooklyn?

    Cops park on sidwalks, blocking traffic (Classon & DeKalb) and forcing people into the street (Bergen & Sixth).

    Judges park in Columbus Park and on Cadman Plaza making an otherwise useful civic space look more like a big box parking lot. So much for upholding the public trust.

  • It’s true. Downtown Brooklyn is perhaps even worse than Lower Manhattan when it comes to illegal government parking.

  • Janet

    Maybe just more obvious–in the Adams St. bike lane, for example.

  • Jeanie Chin

    You guys are inspiring! Keep up the excellent work. Thanks for your long term vision for our city.

  • Good work!
    Not mentioned in the report but potentially beneficial: Creating and applying parking regulations for government employees would have an additional benefits for the city. Reduced parking on city streets by government employees and forged permits would free up parking space for revenue creating activities s.a. shopping, visits to local services, institutions etc..

    Additionally; the Sanitation Department could clean many streets that are used by government employees for parking during posted cleaning times. Jay Street is one example.

  • Jan Lee

    I applaud your site for bringing to light one of the worse offenders of our city’s streets, our sidewalks, and our safety ~ Gov’t workers, and that includes the NYPD. One need only to visit NYPD RANT (A whiner’s website for NYPD) to understand the mentality of the people who feel completely justified in endangering the lives of communities they are entrusted and PAID to protect, and serve. This is not to say all NYPD park illegally, quite the contrary. It is the abusive few who ruin so much for the law abiding officers and the public. All it takes though, is is a couple of defiant idiots parked at a couple of key locations, like no-standing zones, or fire hydrants (those are off-limits 24/7 for a reason!!) during another “attack” or natural disaster and there you have it, a death that could have been avoided. Since the individual law-breaker’s own conscience is lacking the supreme leader of the men in blue has to change the CULTURE and the rank and file will follow.
    Until the CULTURE of abuse is changed from the TOP, each individual officer will continue to feel under-paid and unappreciated and therefore take out his frustrations on “us” the public they are supposed to protect. Defiantly parking all day at a fire hydrant, then defending that action as a “perk that I am entitled to” is no defense. It’s still illegal, it’s still enforceable, and if an officer does not want his privacy violated because we’re taking pictures of the offense, do as the Mayor instructs you to do “take public transportation” like the rest of us, or don’t show everyone your’re a COP by displaying a placard!
    NY’ers should pressure the Mayor and Commissioner to change the CULTURE of abuse at every level in the NYPD, the Public and the individual officers are suffering from it in one way or another. PLACARD reduction or elimination is the only way we’re going to solve this problem of parking abuse.

  • Glenn

    Just want to let you guys in on a secret. I am employed by an agency in Downtown Brooklyn. I park in legal parking each and everyday and have received only 2 summons in the past 18 months because I couldnt read the signs.
    I am not parking illegally but I am taking up a legal spot in front of someones home or place of business.
    I am sure they would have wanted this for themself or a customer but I was there. Too bad, i am legal!

    As far as law breaking, I hope you ride responsibly, braking for pedestrians and stopping for red lights, you will be next.

  • You must be a different “Glenn” than I am. Perhaps you could be “Placard Glenn”

  • Steve Adler

    Q: How can you spot a police station from half a mile in the air?
    A: Those are the buildings that are surrounded by triple parked cars.
    At Mosholu Pkwy and Webster Ave. in the Bronx — across the street from the 52 precinct — there is a a row of 6-8 private cars parked perpendicular to the curb — in an active bus stop!!! When the bus comes — the Bx41 — it holds up the one remaining lane of traffic in the downtown direction. It has been this way for years. When complaints are filed, they investigate themselves — and do nothing!! It may appear to be a minor thing — but it is such “minor” forms of brazen public theft that erode the conscience of all concerned and make it that much easier for the more marginal characters among them to pull the trigger on those rare occasions when the opportunity arises. I would be glad to send a copy of my study of “dollar vans” in NYC or a report of how I was arrested and jailed for “theft of service” after trying to use my valid weekly transit pass on a turnstile that — as I discovered the following day — was known to be malfunctioning. The Police were staking out a malfunctioning turnstile in order to issue tickets for “theft of service” to people who had no interest in stealing anything. In my case they racked up 11 hours of easy overtime babysitting me in jail — but never made a note that I even claimed to have a valid. weekly pass. During my eight hours in jail, none of the officers would check to see if my pass was valid. I used my pass as soon as I was released with a time-stamped desk appearance ticket — so that I could show that I had it with me at the time I was released. Otherwise, it would have been my word against theirs. The case was dismissed after I subpoenaed the record of use of my pass!! As far as I no, none of the police were reprimanded.
    My email is
    Steve Adler

  • carculturekills

    Please please please do a similar expose on the cops who use the downtown Brooklyn bike lanes as their own personal parking lot. They are worse than the cab drivers!


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