The head of the state Department of Motor Vehicles told New Yorkers to send him pictures of defaced license plates so that his agency can address the problem ... by sending the registered owner a new set of clean tags on the house.
The comments came as part of a joint legislative hearing on Monday after Assembly Member Emily Gallagher (D-Williamsburg) questioned Commissioner Mark Schroeder about the stunning number of defaced or simply fake license plates that are proliferating around the city — as highlighted by Streetsblog's own video series on social media.
"In my district, we still see many, many license plates that are defaced or are just pieces of paper that look like somebody printed it off their computer," she said. "So I'm wondering, are there any innovations coming up to prevent these kinds of obstructions?"
Schroeder claimed that the state's newer plates don't peel as easily as older ones, but asked New Yorkers to contact DMV to get fresh plates — free — if their plate can no longer be read. But Gallagher kept Schroeder on target: what are New Yorkers supposed to do about their neighbors who intentionally deface their plates?
"If that's something that's happening, please let me know," he said. "We have a system in place. I do get people from across New York State to send me photos of the plates. And what I do is I go to our commissioner in communications, and she's able to figure out what to do about it because it's not safe when these plates are not readable, especially for law enforcement."
"I think you just gave a lot of people in my district a new hobby of taking photos of these plates and sending them to you," Gallagher said.
"Send them to me. Tell them, 'Send them to Schroeder,'" the commissioner added, though he may have been joking.
Afterwards, Gallagher told Streetsblog that she was surprised that Schroeder "actually had an answer for me about the license plates."
"I felt that the DMV understood," she added. "And now I think he’s about to find out just how big this problem is."
That part is unclear. The commissioner's DMV online bio does not include a way to send him pictures, texts or even emails, nor does the agency's telephone directory provide his number. The agency's snail mail address is: 6 Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12228.
But a web page about "peeling" plates does offer an email address if "you want the next available standard plate number free of charge." The problem is, that's only for the car owner, not for random neighbors who want to report said car owner.
"It's bizarre that NYS DOT is so clueless on this, especially when they can make so much money from it," said David Thom after viewing the exchange between Gallagher and Schroeder on YouTube. "Go to any other jurisdiction and there is zero tolerance for the kind of paper and defaced /obscured plates that you see everywhere in NY State."
We asked DMV a rash of questions (including how to report neighbors' transgressions), and here's all we got back from an agency spokesman:
"The process to replace peeling plates is simple and free of charge. Customers can email or call our Custom Plates Unit Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at (518) 402-4838 and a DMV representative will walk them through the process. As a courtesy to our customers, there is no charge for replacing peeling plates, however, customers must pay a statutory $20 fee if they want to keep their existing plate number. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which contracts with vendors to produce license plates, continues to monitor for production issues and implements changes when appropriate."
Educated at the Sorbonne and the Yale School of Drama, Gersh Kuntzman is obviously not the person being described here. We're talking about tabloid legend Gersh Kuntzman, who has been with New York newspapers since 1989, including stints at the New York Daily News, the Post, the Brooklyn Paper and even a cup of coffee with the Times. He's also the writer and producer of "Murder at the Food Coop," which was a hit at the NYC Fringe Festival in 2016, and “SUV: The Musical” in 2007. Email Gersh at email@example.com