Hooray for Placard Fraud Busts — Now When Will de Blasio Address the Real Problem?

Getting detailed forgeries out of circulation is a step forward for parking placard reform, but most placard abuse doesn't involve clever fakes like this. Image: NYC Department of Investigation
Getting detailed forgeries out of circulation is a step forward for parking placard reform, but most placard abuse doesn't involve clever fakes like this. Image: NYC Department of Investigation

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance brought charges yesterday against 30 people accused of selling and using fake parking placards.

“New York City is one of the most expensive and challenging places in the world to park a car,” Vance said in a statement. “I hope this indictment sends a clear message to anyone using a fake parking placard in Manhattan that this behavior is illegal and may result in a criminal prosecution.”

It’s good whenever law enforcement takes placard abuse seriously, and the cases announced Tuesday will hopefully discourage others from engaging in placard fraud. But there’s only so much the DA can do here.

The vast scope of placard abuse — both the misuse of legitimate parking permits by government employees, and the culture of “professional courtesy” that extends free parking perks to anyone with an official-looking emblem on the dashboard — is largely beyond the reach of a crackdown on clever counterfeits. Only a concerted effort by the mayor and NYPD can make a dent in the routine placard abuse that clogs streets and sidewalks, imposing real costs on the public.

Placards are theoretically intended to help government workers conduct government business. In practice, though, they allow people to leave a car just about anywhere with virtual immunity from law enforcement, whether they’re on the job or not.

Last spring, City Hall told Politico there were roughly 160,000 city-issued placards in existence. The MTA, Port Authority, the Office of Court Administration, city district attorneys, and the governor’s office all issue placards as well. Few agencies would talk to Politico about how many placards they’re allotted, and none would disclose who gets them.

Mayor de Blasio has shown little interest in addressing placard abuse in any meaningful way. To the contrary, he ensured it would get worse when he reissued tens of thousands of permits the Bloomberg administration had taken away from Department of Education employees, increasing the number of city placards by almost 50 percent.

“We’re not going to tolerate misuse by city employees, we’re not going to tolerate private citizens who fabricate placards or misuse,” de Blasio said of Tuesday’s arrests. “I think it’s a good example of the fact more and more enforcement is happening and anyone who inappropriately uses a placard or fabricates a placard will pay a price.”

The arrests by Vance and NYPD are a welcome development, but de Blasio is muddling the issue by claiming these fake placards are representative of placard abuse broadly speaking. Much more common than a detailed forgery are parking violations committed with real placards, or the use of informal signifiers of authority to scare away enforcement agents.

Despite the mayor’s tough talk, illegal parking by both types of placard abusers remains rampant.

Ultimately, the only surefire way to get rid of placard abuse is to get rid of placards. The fewer the better. Failing that, de Blasio and his NYPD should at least be transparent about the official placards in circulation and regularly report on the extent of abuse — and enforcement — in a manner that independent observers can verify.

  • Reader

    “New York City is one of the most expensive and challenging places in the world to park a car.”

    Is Vance crazy? Most of our parking is free.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Even someone that usually parks for free on the street, between the occasional garage charge and parking tickets, I’d be willing to bet the average NYC motorist spends more money on parking than in any other big city in the US, except maybe SF. Do you think this is not true?

  • Kwyjibo

    I’d be willing to place a hypothetical wager that a random hypothesis I pulled from thin air just for the sake contradicting you is in fact true.

    Can you prove it isn’t?

  • What annoyed me about that part is the DA’s office clearly doesn’t have a grip on how placard abuse harms the pedestrian environment and the surface transportation system writ large. To them it’s probably more like an affront to the people with legit placards. That would be a weird angle to go with in a press release though, so instead there’s this weird line for all the honest car owners out there who take their lumps and shell out for expensive spaces in a garage when they’re done circling for a legal on-street spot.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of car owners in NYC spend *less* than elsewhere. A lot of people own cars but barely drive them, which saves on gas and makes insurance cheaper. Even daily drivers probably put in less miles than in much of the US.

    It’s only expensive if you drive in Manhattan or pay for a space. A hell of a lot of people either park on the street for free, or in the parts of the outer boroughs have a driveway that they own. Sure, in aggregate the $500/mo garage parkers are bringing us way up, but I doubt that represents even the median car owner in NYC.

  • Martijn
  • djx

    I can’t speak to averages, but in my family my wife uses the car most days to get to work (in New Jersey) and we park on the street. We probably get one ticket a year, plus pay maybe $30/year for metered parking, and $100/year at most for parking lots/garages when going to core business areas. That’s perhaps $250/year. Super super cheap. We live in a part of Manhattan where on-street parking is pretty easy.

    What the people opposed charging more for on-street parking keep forgetting is that by charging more for it, it will actually become easier to park.

    The city absolutely should charge for it, with residents given the option to buy (annually) a permit.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Ah a reverse commuter. i did that too for a while. Parking as a reverse commuter is easy and cheap (and should stay that way), because, at least in manhattan, every single commercial only loading zone becomes free parking outside of business hours. As long as you have somewhere else to take your car during the day, you’re golden.

    In midtown maybe just over half of all available street parking was used on any given weeknight. Reverse commuters aren’t the problem.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I kind of assumed we were talking about the US. If you throw Europe into the mix, yes, motoring in Europe is more expensive, and not just in terms of parking. Gas, tolls, everything.

    Having said that, hourly street parking in most places in NYC is limited to 1 or 2 hours. If you’re driving in for work and parking, a typical garage rate in manhattan is $35 for an 8 hour workday.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Surprisingly, NYC has some of the highest insurance rates in the country. With some zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens actually being the highest if I remember correctly.

    But regardless, counting insurance as part of parking cost is not quite appropriate.

    It fairly expensive to own a car in NY compared to elsewhere for a few reasons:

    -NY State’s registration and inspection regime is stricter and pricier than most.
    -Insurance is about 2x the price of even our nearby suburbs
    -Parking tickets are a thing, and you’ll get one here and there, even if you park correctly (they’re very hard to successfully dispute).
    -Garage costs when driving into the CBD during the day
    -Bad roads and city driving wears cars down faster, and uses a lot more fuel.
    -Mechanics services are pricier and there’s less competition per capita here than elsewhere. So when something needs to be fixed you’ll be paying a lot more.
    -If you’re the type to care about the aesthetics of your car, you’ll be spending money each year to fix all the scrapes careless parallel parkers leave.

  • Joe R.

    Charging more for on-street parking will also give an incentive for those who hardly use their cars (i.e. the ones who just start them on alternate side days) to get rid of them. I’ve read by some accounts people circling for a spot on alternate side days account for as much as half the traffic.

    In general, very cheap or free on-street parking is a huge traffic generator.

    I favor a residential permit system as well. Among other things, it reduce the number of vehicles registered out of state which are really owned by NYC residents.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Agreed on all points. As a first step, I’d ban overnight parking in Manhattan by cars with out of state plates.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Eliminate placards entirely. Add a simple function to the application that the ticket writers use that, when they enter the license plate and violation, checks that plate against a database of plates with “placard privileges,” and flashes a “OK to park here” message if they’re not in violation. Take the decision whether or not to ticket out of the hands of the ticket writers entirely. Ticket everything, and the app won’t print the ticket if there’s no violation.

    That both deals with the fake placards, the “courtesy items,” and people using placards to park in areas (like no standing zones, or in front of hydrants) where they’re not allowed to park even with a placard.

    A few months of sting operations with cars with placards or “courtesy items” left out, and disciplining ticket agents who fail to ticket them, and the problem would be solved.

    In the future, could readily add functions such as time limits, so permissions for “official business” only apply while the employee is actually at work.

  • Brilliant . I would also charge for the legitimate placards the budget of their department . this should be their cost of doing business, not the taxpayer coast .

  • Andrew

    I kind of assumed we were talking about the US. If you throw Europe into the mix, yes, motoring in Europe is more expensive, and not just in terms of parking. Gas, tolls, everything.

    You thought “one of the most expensive and challenging places in the world” was talking about the US and was excluding Europe?

    Having said that, hourly street parking in most places in NYC is limited to 1 or 2 hours. If you’re driving in for work and parking, a typical garage rate in manhattan is $35 for an 8 hour workday.

    So, $4.38 per hour – still cheaper than the purple and blue zones in the Amsterdam map.

  • Andrew

    Parking tickets are a thing, and you’ll get one here and there, even if you park correctly (they’re very hard to successfully dispute).

    Of all of the parking tickets I received when I owned a car in New York City, all but two were perfectly legitimate.

    Of those two, one was dismissed with a brief visit to 66 John (it took less than an hour) and one, much to my chagrin, required an appeal but was ultimately dismissed as well.

    But I also managed to get a few well deserved tickets dismissed on technicalities, so even if those other two had been erroneously upheld, I still would have come out ahead.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I’ve had a quite the opposite experience with tickets. The few I got legitimately I don’t worry about, since I deserved them.

    However, 2 bad tickets come to mind:

    1. I got one for parking too close to a hydrant. So I took a tape measure and measured how far I was: 15.5ft. I took a picture of my car and the tape measure, and sent it in to appeal. The response I got back was “Well, you could have moved your car after you got the ticket. Ticket Stays.”

    2. I got a ticket for parking in a no parking 7am-7pm zone. The ticket’s issuing time was 6:38AM. Wasn’t able to get it dismissed either. I can’t take time off work to actually go in person, so if I can’t get it dismissed online, that’s as far as I can take it.

    Literally all of my motorist friends have similar stories. It’s pretty common.

  • Andrew

    However, 2 bad tickets come to mind:

    Sorry to hear it. How does that compare to the number of times that you parked illegally but didn’t get a ticket? If you’ve parked illegally more than twice without getting a ticket, you’ve come out ahead.

    Literally all of my motorist friends have similar stories. It’s pretty common.

    Well, yes, lots of motorists tend to whine incessantly on the rare occasion that they’re ticketed for anything. The woefully inadequate degree of traffic law enforcement in New York breeds a culture of entitlement.

  • iSkyscraper

    Garage parking is expensive because free and underpriced street parking results in too much induced demand resulting in no available street parking, thereby inflating garage prices. Price street parking properly and the situation will improve.

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