Gridlock Sam: Mayor’s Placard Reduction Plan is Step One of Ten

The following was contributed by Samuel I. Schwartz, AKA Gridlock Sam.

Mayor Bloomberg correctly recognizes that reining in city workers’ parking privileges is a pre-requisite to congestion pricing. But his goal of 20 percent is too modest, and he should know it’s easier to do than it looks. Believe me I know; I led the effort to reduce government parking under Mayor Koch in the 1980s, even under threat of arrest. Here’s what Mayor Mike needs to do in 2008 under my ten-step plan:

  1. ucfp2.jpgSet up a triumvirate to review every permit application. Put DOT, NYPD and the Mayor’s Office on the team, an NYC parking version of "checks and balances."
  2. Publish the names and civil service titles of every placard recipient. A small number belonging to undercover officers would not be revealed, but their number would be published to ensure no significant changes without explanation.
  3. Establish just two recognized machine scannable permit types: ‘Law Enforcement’ and ‘Agency.’ Include State and Federal Permits into the mix. Currently, I estimate around 75 different permits, some of which are phonies.
  4. Ticket first, ask questions later. If a car has a permit and is in violation, tag it. Let the recipient pay or argue his or her case before the triumvirate.
  5. No permits given for routine commutation (yes, I know NYPD and FDNY must be treated differently; I’ll get to that). Ostensibly, the reason we give permits to civil servants is because they use their cars to go "into the field." Set a three hour limit on parking at offices. See step four for enforcement and adjudication.
  6. Parking by police stations and firehouses is "out-of-control." First hand, I’ve observed roughly a third of the permits appearing to be "phonies" with some belonging to clerical positions. In my day, we mapped out police and fire department parking with the commanding officer and left it to him or her to get rid of the bogus ones. We also ticketed and towed cars outside the established zones regardless of a permit.
  7. Create a force of about 100 officers who report to the DOT Commissioner and are backed to the hilt when they tag NYPD, FDNY officers’ cars. In my day, parking enforcement was a DOT function, and this was easier to do though several of my officers were handcuffed and I was personally threatened with arrest by the feds (my first meeting with then U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani).
  8. Slash "official plates" by a third. My guess is that much of this can be accomplished by banning cars of assistant, deputy assistant commissioner, and other commissioner titles. If the subway is good enough for Hizzoner, it should be good enough for them. Besides, most commissioners rarely go into the field and they can use a "pool car" when transit’s a hardship.
  9. Get rid of ALL teachers’ parking. Perhaps the most galling image is that of teachers’ parking in school playgrounds. The second most galling is teachers’ parking adjacent to schools. The curbs next to schools are meant to provide emergency access and a space for pick-up and discharge. Teachers’ parking was granted in the 1960s when Title I teachers traveled between schools. That program is long gone. Furthermore, parking next to schools is dangerous. A DOT study found that about 100 children per year are struck by cars after darting out between cars parking by schools during school hours.
  10. "No Permit Zones" were set up in the 1980s to identify areas of abuse and inform the city worker that extra enforcement would be working the area. Ticket defenses were particularly tough in these areas. The city still has some "No Permit Zones" but enforcement is spotty (witness the bike lane on Adams St.). I say expand "No Permit Zones," publicize them and send the DOT Enforcement Squad to patrol (see steps four and seven).

These ten measures would vastly help pave the way for congestion pricing. But let’s make sure government workers don’t get permits for that too.

Samuel I. Schwartz was a civil servant from 1971 to 1990 under four different mayors.

Photo: Uncivil Servants

  • bob bob

    I like these ideas, now lets implement them!

  • Jahrvi

    what type of permit doe’s Mr. Schwartz have?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Ostensibly, the reason we give permits to civil servants is because they use their cars to go ‘into the field.’)

    Speaking as someone who used to do some field research for NYC (for zoning studies, pre-census work), there is nothing more wasteful than for someone doing field work to show up at the office. Commute from home to the first site, commute to home from the last site, and work every minute you are paid to.

    In Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, I found it was easier to just move around by transit. No going back to where the car was before moving on. I’d organize the work to do areas near each other on the same day. (I’ll bet I could have done it even faster on a bike, but I didn’t have one at the time). In Staten Island, I’d use my own car, sans permit.

    I really didn’t like field work with my fellow employees. Only got half as much done. The addtional trips from the office to pick up a city car, and from the city car pick up to the first field location, and then the reverse, is the reason why.

  • Red

    Sam Schwartz is now a private consultant. He has no permit.

  • Vlad

    The city can hire Sam Schwartz to review the 50,000 plus self enforcement (precinct) permits the cops give out.

  • JK

    Politically, a crackdown on permits may help get pricing through, but congestion pricing itself is probably the most effective way to reduce permit parking. This is why it is imperative not to exempt placard holders from the congestion fee. Since a much greater share of govt workers drive to work — they more than any other group need to pay something for the cost of their driving.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Speaking as someone who used to do some field research for NYC (for zoning studies, pre-census work), there is nothing more wasteful than for someone doing field work to show up at the office. Commute from home to the first site, commute to home from the last site, and work every minute you are paid to.

    The best solution would be to decentralize the city car fleet. If there were a Zipcar for government employees, they could take the subway, bus or commuter rail to specific locations and pick up a car there. Locations at Queens Plaza, Jamaica, Flushing, Saint George, Coney Island, East New York, Pelham Bay Park and 207th Street would cover most of the areas that are hard to get to by transit.

  • Jonathan

    Angus, I love that idea. Why should the city car have to be stored near the office for those field workers? Out-of-the-box thinking at its finest.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Politically, a crackdown on permits may help get pricing through, but congestion pricing itself is probably the most effective way to reduce permit parking. This is why it is imperative not to exempt placard holders from the congestion fee.)

    Don’t you get it? The congestion fee IS a crackdown on the value of he permit, at least in Manhattan, because driving to Manhattan and parking there would no longer be “free.” That is why the political class and related groups is so opposed. It is attempt to do something — limit the value of a perk — that has been otherwise impossible.

    The red herring created by opponents is telling the teacher with seniority who lives in Staten Island that she has to take mass transit to a violent school in Browsville. It is intended to dissaude any part of the feudal oligarchy from leaving the fold.

    Now of course, the 20% cut in permits could all be in the CBD. But that’s where the brass works…

  • comentz

    Sometimes I simply shake my head in disbelief watching scenes like this on City streets: an elderly, gray-haired male in a crisp suit and coat, sitting in the driver’s seat of a shiny late model Range Rover parked on Broadway and West 41st Street, casually talking on his cell phone. Not only was there a placard on the dashboard, but also a clean firefighter’s coat neatly folded by the rear window along with a shiny helmet for all to see. Could it be that the man became a volunteer fire fighter somewhere in NY State just to obtain free parking privileges on City streets?

  • Gelston

    This suggests a strategy for further devaluing the placards. Mass-produce and distribute them to cars that will then “flood” the streets in a day of action. We will create true gridlock. For maximum effectiveness, the gridlocks will be surgical – targeted at neighborhoods, which will not be announced long enough in advance for motorists to plan ahead. We will wage this guerrilla war until the commuting motorists abandon their useless cars.

  • Gelston,

    I once proposed that very same idea to the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association. They were having trouble with government employees taking all of the parking spots in front of their members’ stores. I suggested that each merchant have a stack of the very same bogus government parking permits at the counter. Hand them out to customers who come by car. Then go ahead and hand them out to every car owner in the neighborhood. Make them worthless and force the city to do something about it.

    It’d be a parking permit deflationary death spiral. Not unlike the Federal Reserve’s current dollar policy.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (It’d be a parking permit deflationary death spiral. Not unlike the Federal Reserve’s current dollar policy.)

    Right, and what if Bloomberg declared a holiday from enforcement of parking in reserved zones near public employment (ie. school parking zones)? Same thing.

    What makes private property private? The right of exclusion, that’s what.

  • Maureen

    people who serve our city should use the city services so i say: metrocard, metrocard, metrocard!!!

    why the city allows city employees permits to park is beyond me, however i’m w/Angus, a zipcar for when the metrocard will not work out due to the inaccessibility of public transport would work better than a city car.

  • Leanne

    “Mass-produce and distribute them to cars that will then “flood” the streets in a day of action. We will create true gridlock. For maximum effectiveness, the gridlocks will be surgical – targeted at neighborhoods, which will not be announced long enough in advance for motorists to plan ahead. We will wage this guerrilla war until the commuting motorists abandon their useless cars.”

    One of the most serious problems with the city’s traffic congestion is that emergency vehicles frequently cannot respond to scenes quickly enough. I think you need to consider the possible repercussions of INTENTIONALLY creating gridlock. Imagine if one of your loved ones were to suffer or even die because a deliberately created traffic-jam delayed the response of FIRE/PD/EMS.

    I absolutely agree that something drastic needs to change, but I believe we need to be responsible in how we accomplish it.

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