There Is No “Placard Crackdown” and That’s How NYPD Wants It

The City Council wants to track placard abuse so it can evaluate the extent of the problem. NYPD refuses to help.

The B41 in downtown Brooklyn can't use the bus lane thanks to chronic placard abuse, so riders sit in traffic instead. Photo: Ben Fried
The B41 in downtown Brooklyn can't use the bus lane thanks to chronic placard abuse, so riders sit in traffic instead. Photo: Ben Fried

New York City’s parking placard system is rife with fraud and abuse, littering streets with illegally parked cars that slow down buses, block pedestrian ramps, and generally gum up the surface transportation system for everybody. NYPD wouldn’t have it any other way.

At a City Council hearing today, NYPD resisted all attempts to reform, evaluate, and track the placard system, which serves as a license for the department’s workforce to park illegally with impunity.

It’s been more than a year since Mayor de Blasio pledged to “crack down” on parking placard abuse, shortly after expanding the city’s official placard supply by tens of thousands. At the time, de Blasio announced that the NYPD would hire 100 traffic agents and create a 16-officer unit dedicated to stopping placard abuse.

But since then, the department has towed a grand total of 89 vehicles for placard abuse, according to NYPD. Summonses for illegal use of placards went up, from 29,000 in 2016 to 52,000 in the last 12 months, but those are the only metrics police officials provided. NYPD didn’t say whether placard abuse is any more or less prevalent than before the “crackdown” started.

A tour of sites known for blatant placard abuse indicates little has actually changed: Placard holders continue to illegally park on sidewalks, crosswalks, bus lanes, and bike lanes.

In testimony before the City Council transportation committee today, NYPD Director of Legislative Affairs Oleg Chernyavsky batted away efforts by city council members to reform the system. Intro 942, proposed by Council Member Peter Koo, would task the Department of Transportation with coming up with a “comprehensive plan” for the distribution and use of city-issued placards.

“The department believes in reforming the parking permit system,” Chernyavsky said. “However, we are concerned with this legislation as it leaves the determination of how many parking permits the NYPD requires to another agency.” He expressed further “concern” that such a plan would limit the number of permits the NYPD can issue.

Chernyavsky also opposed the three other placard-related bills on the agenda.

Intro. 927, which would create an electronic tracking system for city-issued placards, would pose a “security” risk by putting NYPD information in a database outside of the agency’s control. It would also entail “a significant amount of work,” he said. Intro. 932, which would revoke the placard of any driver caught misusing their placard three or more times in a year, should be “best left to the agency’s internal disciplinary process.” And Intro. 314, requiring NYPD to compile quarterly placard abuse reports “cannot currently be accomplished with our existing capabilities.”

In other words, leave everything up to NYPD, and don’t expect any transparency whatsoever.

Neither Chernyavsky nor NYPD Traffic Enforcement District Commanding Officer Deputy Chief Michael Pilecki offered insight into how the bills could be amended to support their purported goal of placard reform.

In fact, they downplayed the problem altogether. Pilecki told committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez that the 89 vehicles towed in the last year was “not necessarily a low number.”

Rodriguez was not impressed. “We know that these numbers [are in] the thousands,” he told Pilecki.

Representing DOT, Chief Operating Officer Margaret Forgione expressed support for the “intent” of the various placard-related bills and outlined incremental steps DOT has taken to curb placard abuse: reducing the number of placards assigned to multiple vehicles, a requirement that new placards be approved by an agency commissioner or first deputy commissioner, an improved process for collecting old placards before issuing new ones, improved “holograms” on the placards themselves to prevent illegal duplication, and a new city rule creating specific violations for misusing or forging a parking placard.

That’s all fine, but it’s tinkering on the margins.

NYPD gives out 45,000 official placards to its officers. DOT distributes tens of thousands more to city employees. Many more federal and state officials receive placards, and there are untold thousands of fake placards and placard substitutes in circulation. As long as enforcement is left to traffic enforcement agents, who are low on the NYPD chain-of-command and may expect reprisals for ticketing the car of a powerful superior, placard holders can expect to get away with illegal parking.

The only real solution to the scourge of placard abusers blocking sidewalks, bike lanes, and bus stops is to reduce the number of placards, with the ultimate goal of eliminating them altogether.

No council members suggested as much today, but many expressed their frustration that NYPD and DOT were not seeking more systemic reforms to the system.

“We really have to have some strong enforcement on this issue,” said Council Member Margaret Chin, a sponsor of Intro. 932. “We want to make sure that the trust between our government and citizens is there. Residents see this abuse every day. We’ve got to do something.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It’s been more than a year since Mayor de Blasio pledged to “crack down” on parking placard abuse.”

    And in that time the Mayor has been re-elected to his final term, and no longer has to pretend that the political/union class has to care about the serfs.

    If you want to be lied to this year, you have a better shot with Cuomo, at least for a few more months.

  • r

    It’s NYPD’s city. Bill de Blasio just gets to pretend he runs it for a little while.

    Honestly, the dumbest thing the mayor has done – among many dumb things – was announce a big crackdown in a press conference and then not follow through. Cops already thought he was weak and not worthy of their respect. Now they have proof.

  • djx

    This whole thing makes me want to barf. Particularly when contrasted with NYPD comments about how they “can’t” ignore lawbreaking, such as cyclists rolling through red lights.

  • Joe R.

    Easy fix—bollard off any area where parking isn’t allowed. Protect bus lanes with jersey barriers. If a vehicle parks in a bus lane despite the jersey barriers (meaning it entered the bus lane at an intersection), allow bus drivers to use their bus to just push the vehicle out of the bus lane.

    It’s obvious the NYPD doesn’t want to give up a system that lets them park wherever they want with impunity. The solution is to just make it physically impossible to park where it’s not allowed via a system of barriers. That includes bollarding off the sidewalk around police stations so the police can’t park on the sidewalk. DOT can do all this yesterday without any new legislation.

  • com63

    Idea for a young reporter: Apply and get hired as a Traffic Enforcement Agent. Ticket placard abusers and then document what reprisals you get for doing so. Become a whistleblower and write about the system. Would make a great story.

  • William Lawson

    Why does ANY city employee need or deserve a placard? Let’s get that question out of the way first. Their jobs are no more or less important than those of any other New Yorkers. And given that virtually everyone with a placard abuses it to park places the placard does not permit them, it seems that nobody can be trusted with one. Which would be OK if the NYPD actually did its job ticketing placard abuse, but they don’t. The whole system is an abomination and should be abolished. NOBODY in this city needs or deserves a parking placard.

  • Bernard Finucane
  • ohnonononono

    Remember that the NYPD only punches down… they’re here to protect the people who already have power and remind everyone else they have none.

  • NYCCitizen

    So we give unnecessary placards in the thousands and the delivery people who NEED curbside access are forced to double park with no curbside access. Then the delivery people get ticketed/towed and blamed for congestion by the same people taking up their spots. E-commerce goes up and up every year and the city has this backwards. Open up curbside space to deliveries, let the bikes and buses flow.

  • Rex Rocket

    Great opportunity for a young journalist to:
    1. be arrested
    2. have the shit kicked out of him/her
    3. Inspire NYS Republicans to pass bills making it illegal for reporters to do any undercover cover work against police and/or state politicians.

  • vnm

    So the agency that’s responsible for ending placard abuse is also the agency whose employees most benefit from the placard abuse? OF COURSE this situation is totally f’ed up!

  • MrLomez

    We a need a referendum to ban plackards! Time to stop depending on electeds (who have plackards) to do the right thing.

    (and of course congestion pricing deals with a lot of the issues too)

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    Unfortunately, you don’t know what you are talking about. Commercial vehicles making deliveries are ALLOWED to double park when parking at the curb would have been legal, and there is no free space at the curb within 100 feet. As a result, because those delivery vehicles are *legally* double parked, they don’t get ticketed, and don’t get towed for double parking.

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    Do you really think that every government vehicle is painted in a way that indicates it is a government vehicle? You have truly never, ever heard of an unmarked car?

  • Joe R.

    Those unmarked vehicles do have sirens for when they’re on call, don’t they? And if we’re talking about unmarked government vehicles which don’t have sirens because they don’t respond to emergencies, then they *don’t* need to park in spots which are otherwise illegal (as it’s not an emergency). Hence they can park in a legal spot like everyone else, even if they have to circle the block all day to find one. The bottom line is I’m not seeing any rationale whatsoever for giving people parking placards.

  • com63

    All three of those things would make the eventual story/book better.

  • i think it’s time to print a few thousands “Fuck Your Placard” stickers. carry ’em with you. use them as needed.

  • CtotheC

    Why don’t people apply a little non-destructive vigilante justice? Get four hydraulic rollers and moved a few placarded car into the Main street and block all traffic. A car is easier to move by one person than you would think.

  • AMH

    Even captured a little old person forced to push their cart down the middle of the street by those #sidewalkhogs

  • Hugh Shepard

    2 possible solutions to this situation:

    1. Plant trees and add bollards to reclaim all of the sidewalk for pedestrians by making it physically impossible for cars to park on the sidewalk.

    2. Compromise, rearrange the street setup to maintain some NYPD-reserved parking spaces while keeping the street low-speed and keeping a comfortable clear sidewalk on one side of the street.

  • Hugh Shepard

    They don’t need parking placards – they want parking placards

    This whole system is just a reflection on how fierce competition is for parking spaces in NYC. The real solution is to make most parking spaces appropriately priced so that one can usually find a legal parking space relatively near there destination if they are willing to pay for it.

  • Cain McDougal

    It is like those “Stop a Douchebag” stickers used in Russia. It can certainly work here. It is the same stickers used by the Sanitation/Traffic folks when you park your car during street cleaning.

  • NYCCitizen

    So getting back to the original point if they had curbside access then they would not have to double park as much and it would help open up traffic flow. I don’t see how being “allowed” to do something has much to do with giving curbside access for those who actually need it. And I’m not sure maneuvering a hand truck full of packages between parked curbs and over a curb makes much sense. And good luck getting a city traffic agent to pass by a double parked truck in midtown without issuing a ticket unless it’s a usps truck which I don’t think they can ticket.

  • cjstephens

    Better solution: no placards for anyone. If you have to park illegally because of an emergency (“I’m an off-duty cop and I was responding to a robbery in progress.”) you can easily document that and get the ticket dismissed. Everyone else? Pay for parking, or just take public transportation like the rest of us. Problem solved.

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    So your brilliant suggestion for identifying a parked unmarked car is that instead of placing a placard on the dashboard, it should instead sit parked with a wailing siren.

    And it never occurred to you how profoundly stupid that suggestion was, did it?

  • Joe R.

    Don’t unmarked cars usually have a driver present when they’re doing surveillance? In that case, they’re not parked, they’re standing. And because it’s legitimate police work they can legally stand anywhere (without blaring a siren).

    In what situation would an unmarked car not engaged in official police work need to park illegally (and hence have need of a placard)? I can’t think of one. Sorry, but placards need to go. A lot of other cities don’t have them or need them.

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