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Monday’s Headlines: The Ghosts in the Machine Edition

It's been a busy few days it's been on the ghost car and defaced plate beat. Plus other news (including the world premiere of a new criminal mischief video).

Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA|

MTA Chairman Janno Lieber with fake tags.

It's been a busy few days on the ghost car and defaced plate beat.

Late on Friday, we learned that the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee unanimously advanced a bill that would severely crack down on the rogue dealers of the temporary license plates that flood New York City streets and allow reckless drivers to avoid accountability.

The topic was the basis for an award-winning seven-month investigation by Streetsblog's Jesse Coburn, whose work was praised by Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) in a statement: “Recent reporting has shone a light on the full extent of this issue, and the threat it poses to the public. Journalists have done their part, and now it is time for us lawmakers to do ours to end this abuse of our state’s laws.”

The bill follows most of the substantive changes suggested by Coburn's reporting: higher fines, greater scrutiny and more hurdles that dealers need to jump through to prove they're legitimate.

Meanwhile, the MTA called another dog-and-pony show to demonstrate that is cracking down on drivers who don't pay their tolls, typically through plate covers or defacement. In this latest three day sweep, the MTA impounded 44 vehicles at the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge with tolls and fines totaling $922,500. So far this year, the agency has intercepted 2,705 vehicles, up nearly 44 percent from the 1,880 intercepted in all of 2022, the SI Advance reported. (The Daily News and Post also covered.)

All of this is relevant giving the coming camera-based congestion pricing toll system. We reached out to the city DOT and the MTA last week for more information about which states don't play ball with their registration records, but we didn't hear back (believe me, we're on it).

There's a lot of leg- (and car-) work involved in cracking down on scofflaws, so Council Member Justin Brannan took to X to point out that the danger of ghost plates could easily be obviated with technology:

And, finally, I mentioned earlier this month that a $500 donation to Streetsblog qualifies the donor for a ride along as I seek my personal vengeance against people who cover or deface their plate. So far, two generous contributors have been on one of my "criminal mischief" runs — and I was glad to have them along when we were confronted by a man who covered his defaced plate with both an illegal Georgia temp tag and an opaque plate cover. The man refused to accept our reasons for taking pictures of his car, so he called the cops, who promptly showed up and sorted everything out (though they did not write him a ticket for his fraudulent plate).

The incident is not in the video because, wouldn't you know it, my camera was off. But the rest of the day was captured on film, so enjoy (and donate!):

Even without donors, I sometimes perform criminal mischief in my spare time:

It's our monthly donation drive!Click here to donate

Whether you give $500 to make criminal mischief with me, or just want to make a small donation to help Streetsblog keep doing the great work we're doing, we sincerely appreciate it.

As such, we'd like to honor the weekend's donors: Thanks, Alec! Thanks, Paco! Thanks, Isaac! Thanks, Mark! Thanks, Rachel! Thanks, Ivan! Thanks, Benjamin! Thanks, Kate! Thanks, Catherine!

In other news:

  • It's going to be a rainy mess today, with high winds and flooding. (NYDN, NY Post)
  • In case anyone is flirting with the Andrew Cuomo for Mayor thing, he's already flip-flopped on congestion pricing — which he pushed through the legislature in 2019. That's what a younger Andrew Cuomo would have called a dick move. (NY Post)
  • Streetsblog gets action? Two days after we called the Department of Transportation for comment on Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso's attempt to get the agency to make Conduit Avenue safer, the DOT unveiled a safety redesign.
  • The MTA is already saying it did a great job this year. (amNY)
  • If so, why do the brand new subway cars still need repairs? (Gothamist)
  • The NYPD cracked down on "illegal" pedicabs ... at the behest of the industry, which keeps the number of "legal" pedicabs artificially low. (Gothamist)
  • The DOT is continuing to demonize the riders of legal electric bikes as the city passed a grim milestone of the highest number of cycling deaths since 1999. (NYDN)
  • In case you missed it, our sister organization's campaign for daylighted intersections has not only yielded a promise from Mayor Adams to clear 1,000 intersections of view-blocking parking, but also an op-ed by Sara Lind and Ydanis Rodriguez in The Bronx Times.
  • Resiliency? Thy name is Red Hook. (The City)
  • If you recall, we thought it was odd that incoming Council Member Susan Zhuang told City and State that she hopes "drivers" will be obsolete in 20 years, but it turns out, her answer might have just been ChatGPT! (NY Post)
  • Like Streetsblog, the Post covered the Council's pushback on Mayor Adams's bid for a complete ban on vending on city bridges.
  • Fifth Avenue had its last car-free open street of the season, and business owners had to admit it was awesome. (amNY)
  • I hate when the NY Post completely underestimates Streetsblog staff drinking.
  • Finally, former federal transit man Larry Penner wrote about the MTA's awful job at the Long Island Rail Road's Elmont/UBS Arena station in Mass Transit.

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