Here’s Something New: Barcode-Adorned Placards in Lower Manhattan

Barcodes will make placards harder to forge — but it won't force NYPD traffic agents to ticket their fellow government employees who park illegally and dangerously.

A sign of what's to come? Photo: Twitter/placardabuse
A sign of what's to come? Photo: Twitter/placardabuse

There’s a new parking placard in town — and, judging by the looks of it, it’s going to be a lot harder to fake.

The @placardabuse Twitter account shared a photo on Thursday afternoon of a city Department of Transportation-owned sedan emblazoned with a fancy DOT-official barcode decal.

Across the city, public officials and imposters get away with illegal and unsafe parking in front of fire hydrants and crosswalks, in bike lanes and bus lanes — and even on sidewalks — thanks to parking placards, which are distributed in the hundreds of thousands. They get away with it, in large part, because NYPD traffic agents follow an unspoken courtesy to not ticket their fellow city employees (or their fellow NYPD employees).

“It’s called the brotherhood of city workers that look out for each other,” former Koch administration Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz told Streetsblog earlier this week.

Mayor de Blasio has promised an update on placard abuse this month, but from the looks of this new-fangled placard, which the administrators of the placard abuse account say is a novelty, perhaps this is it.

Of course, making placards harder to forge only scratches the surface of the problem. The DOT vehicle in question was parked illegally in a no-standing zone — a zone that had been created by DOT itself to ensure driver visibility of crossing pedestrians.

Unsurprisingly, the car wasn’t ticketed:

The mayor’s forthcoming announcement will be the much-delayed follow-up to his mid-2017 promise to crack down on the problem.  At the time, de Blasio’s solution was to launch a dedicated placard enforcement unit. But anyone who has walked near a government building in this city can tell you the impact of that enforcement hike has been negligible. The @placardabuse Twitter account repeatedly riffs on the city’s supposed crackdown — and the seemingly endless parade of examples that show it’s a farce.

The very existence of parking placards compounds the city’s congestion problems. On a whole, city employees are less likely to own cars than the average New Yorker, but because parking placards ensure them free on-street spots, they’re actually more likely to commute by car into Manhattan. Because of that, placard reform was one of the many congestion-tackling recommendations put out by the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup in December [PDF].

As Schwartz sees it, there’s little reason for at least two-thirds of the placards currently in circulation.

“Easily 75 percent of the placards probably could go,” he said. “The only ones who should get placards are people who don’t use it for commutation.”

Politically, placard reform is an uphill battle because of the power civil servants have to shape narratives and wreak havoc on their elected and appointed superiors. In 2017, the de Blasio administration capitulated to demands from labor unions and dolled out 50,000 placards to the city’s public school teachers.

“Everybody in New York has that same problem — ‘How do I get to work?'” said Brooklyn-based parking expert Rachel Weinberger. “Public employees should also take the subway. They should also carpool. They should have to pay to park in a garage.”

  • qrt145

    They can make placards impossible to forge but what good will it do when in practice you don’t even need a placard? Anything from NYPD or other city agency’s reflective vests to handwritten notes saying “police car” do the trick, apparently.

  • sbauman

    Barcodes will make placards harder to forge

    No they won’t. There are add-ons for just about every word processor that will create a barcode in just about any symbology. If somebody will go to the trouble of forging a placard, that person will use the appropriate software to create one.

    The windshield sticker should eliminate the practice of using a single placard for multiple vehicles. Placards from a city vehicle won’t somehow find their way into personal vehicles.

  • William Lawson

    Barcodes will make placard abuse even easier, I’m afraid to say. Easy to reproduce in this day and age. The code could be absolute random gobbledegook and it won’t matter because traffic cops and meter maids won’t scan them. In fact they’ll be even less likely to scrutinize a placard, because the new format looks so “official” that they’ll immediately be mesmerized by the desire to ignore it.

  • r

    Considering that de Blasio will never hold elected office after he’s gone from City Hall, he has nothing to lose by cleaning up placard abuse and scrapping the whole system. Sadly, he’s too delusional and too much of a coward to face the reality.

  • AnoNYC

    I wouldn’t say it’s easier. We live in a time where a handwritten note or reflective vest left on the dash will avoid you a ticket.

    I think a yearly barcode matched to a database is a huge improvement.

  • AnoNYC

    Couldn’t the barcode contain information linked to a database? If the code, car and plate don’t match, barcode is fake which allows for a large fine and instant tow.

  • sbauman

    Placards already contain the car’s registration plate number in plain text. So does the new sticker, if you look carefully. It’s AX-3612, registered in NYS.

  • Reggie

    The statement in the tweet, “[the car] wasn’t ticketed because of #placardcorruption” is probably not true. More likely, the vehicle wasn’t ticketed because it has a City of New York license plate. My (informed) assumption doesn’t change the fundamental argument but this is poor supporting evidence for it.

  • Daphna

    The idea is that the meter maid would have a handheld scanner and would scan a sign on the street with the parking regulations for the block on which the car is parked (that would have a barcode), and would scan the barcode on the parking placard, and then a ticket would automatically be generated if the placard was not valid in the spot it was in. The idea is that technology would take the human element out of deciding whether to write a ticket or not.

  • Daphna

    What qrt1145 describes in an even bigger problem that parking placard abuse and fake parking placards. So many city workers do not even use a real or fake placard, but just put anything in their windshield to show some sort of government affiliation, and expect not to be ticketed for illegal parking as a result, and the meter maids accommodate this expectation.

  • William Lawson

    It doesn’t take the human element out of anything, because the meter maid still has to make a conscious choice whether or not to even scan the barcode. Currently, they take cursory glances of “official looking” placards or paperwork from a distance and walk right by without checking. I’ve seen them do it. No amount of fancy technology will change this human element. You have to start throwing weight around and threatening these corrupt bastards with jail time for not doing their jobs.