Wednesday’s Headlines: Impounding the Pavement Edition

Sight for sore eyes: The MTA tows away a car belonging to a recidivist scofflaw. Wouldn't it be great if the city could do that more often? Photo: MTA Bridges and Tunnels
Sight for sore eyes: The MTA tows away a car belonging to a recidivist scofflaw. Wouldn't it be great if the city could do that more often? Photo: MTA Bridges and Tunnels

“The vehicle was impounded.”

Those were the most profound words in an MTA press release that crossed our desks yesterday. The statement from the transit agency offered an account of a motorist who had finally been caught on Friday at the Whitestone Bridge after failing to pay $58,000 in unpaid tolls and resulting fees.

What caught our eye, of course, was that after pulling over the offending driver (who had simply ignored hundreds of missives demanding payment), MTA cops seized the vehicle on site, preventing the driver from threatening his neighbors anymore. (The Daily News, amNY and the Post also covered.)

It’s a standard process, the MTA later told us: Skip enough tolls and eventually, the agency asks the DMV to invalidate the car’s registration. Once the registration is invalidated, the MTA can literally seize the car.

That’s a far cry from the process in the city, as anyone who has studied the case of Baby Apolline can attest. After the 3-month-old baby was killed by a reckless driver in Brooklyn on Sept. 11, Streetsblog and other outlets reported that the driver who cops say caused the crash had a driving record that included 93 camera-issued red light and speeding tickets, multiple license suspensions, a couple of arrests, plus thousands of dollars in unpaid parking tickets.

Yet nothing — or, more actually, no one — kept the killer off the road. We have spent weeks reaching out to the Department of Finance and the city sheriff to find out why a car with thousands of dollars in unpaid fines that belongs to a guy with multiple license suspensions was never towed or booted, only to receive what amounts to a shrug of the shoulders.

On background, the Department of Finance told us that it searched a database of 120 million license plates scanned by law enforcement over the past year, and never got a hit on Mott’s car — meaning city marshals were not able to spot it on the public roadway for towing.

Couldn’t spot it, eh? The car in question has sped past city speed cameras and raced through city red light cameras 45 times (that’s forty five times!) and racked up 19 parking tickets in 2021 alone, including on Sept. 10, the day before the fatal crash (as Julianne Cuba’s amazing story points out today).

If the NYC Sheriff can’t find a car that has had that much contact with city devices and ticket-issuing humans, lord help us get reckless drivers off the streets. (Indeed, on Sept. 21, Streetsblog posted a list of the 10 most reckless drivers in the city, all of whom have enough unpaid tickets to warrant a seizure, yet not a single one of the cars has been towed away since our article was published.)

Officially, the Department of Finance said it had towed more than 16,000 cars between February and August, which is a lot of scofflaws — though thousands, and likely tens of thousands, remain on the roadways. The agency thinks it is doing a good job.

“The Scofflaw Program is comprehensive, it covers every street in the city. The Sheriff’s license plate reader system is working well and without issue,” an agency spokesman told Streetsblog. Without issue? The Mott case proves otherwise.

Wow, time to get off the soapbox! Here’s the rest of yesterday’s news:

  • A drunk driver who killed a Queens man in 2019 was found guilty. (NYDN)
  • The Village Sun did an admirable deep dive on the parking habits of Trump ally (and some sort of UN high seas diplomat) Paolo Zampolli, who steals parking and yells at his neighbors.
  • Car carnage in Kips Bay. (amNY)
  • Slate is the latest outlet to assess the scooter-share pilot program in the Bronx.
  • The city will beef up open streets in The Bronx and Queens this month with programming. (Gothamist)
  • Gothamist was a little late on all of Monday’s AirTrain coverage, but if you missed the first wave, catch the second.
  • Did you know there were five ballot measures on the November ballot in New York City? Thankfully, the City discusses them in full — including a crucial environmental measure that could, um, change everything.
  • And, finally, normally we would openly question whether Gizmodo even has editors after it published this unhinged piece of conspiracy theorizing about the long-planned Make Meeker Move project, but the piece was filled with so many inaccuracies and contradictions (wait, bike lanes are good … unless Lyft supports them) that we just can’t summon up the energy for a classic Streetsblog takedown (though we did want to point out that the article quoted someone in Williamsburg saying bike activists assault drivers when, in fact, the very opposite thing happened in the neighborhood). Fortunately, Friends of Streetsblog @2AvSagas, @jarekFA and @andres4NY provided Twitter takedowns:

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