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PLATEGATE: Out-of-State Car Owners Owe City $300M in Unpaid Fines

12:01 AM EDT on October 15, 2021

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It's worse than we thought.

Owners of out-of-state cars owe the city more than a quarter-of-a-billion dollars in fines and fees on the millions of unpaid parking and moving violation tickets that Streetsblog reported on earlier in the week.

Since 2016, out-of-state cars have been slapped with more than 3.5 million parking and moving violation tickets according to city data, and owe New York $288.2 million in fines and fees — even after filtering out hundreds of thousands of tickets that were later dismissed because of error, judicial ruling or driver innocence (yes, it happens).

New Jersey drivers are, of course, the worst. As we reported earlier in the week, cars with Garden State plates have 438,220 in unpaid tickets between 2016 and 2020, the most of any non-New York state. Those unpaid tickets add up to $84,033,765. (That massive debt to New York City is something to keep in mind when New Jersey residents complain about congestion pricing.)

Here's how other common scofflaw states break down in debt:

    • Connecticut cars have 64,492 in unpaid tickets — amounting to $15.7 million
    • Pennsylvania cars have 156,092 in unpaid tickets — amounting to $41.9 million.
    • Texas cars have 158,208 in unpaid tickets — amounting to $13.1 million.
    • Florida cars have 68,059 in unpaid tickets — amounting to $17.1 million
    • North Carolina cars have 30,126 in unpaid tickets — amounting to $9 million.

The owners of the rest of the non-New York State-registered cars with outstanding tickets, including those from the District of Columbia and Canadian provinces, owe the city roughly $107.4 million on 325,904 unpaid tickets.

For an interactive version of this chart, click here. Data: NYC Open Data
For an interactive version of this chart, click here. Data: NYC Open Data

The average unpaid ticket for a scofflaw out-of-state car is $107. One New Jersey bus driver got a $515 ticket on May 5, 2016 for an illegal drop-off and now owes $854.50 thanks to penalties and interest, city records show. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, some Maine resident got a huge break for leaving his or her unattached trailer on E. 83rd Street in Brooklyn on Jan. 18, 2020: The Sanitation Department worker who wrote the ticket for the code 66(K)(4) violation only charged the driver $4 on what is supposed to be a $45 fine in that part of the city.

The ticket remains unpaid, nonetheless, city records show.

Advocates said the out-of-state ticket debacle is evidence of an out-of-control, easily abused system.

"There's a massive absence of leadership when it comes to combating car culture and the harm it inflicts on New Yorkers daily — and this is just one more example," said Cory Epstein, the spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives. "These figures are alarming, especially considering how these funds could otherwise go toward expanding and speeding up desperately needed safe streets investments across the city."

The Department of Finance, which includes the sheriff, declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Jesse Coburn

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