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Con Edison Cons Its Way Out of Paying Traffic Tickets

The massive energy company is bilking the city of tens of thousands of dollars in potential camera-issued traffic violations by obscuring its trucks’ license plates.

Patrick Schnell|

Patrick Schnell pulling the hidden license plate forward on a Con Ed truck.

We’re all getting Con-ned!

The massive energy company is bilking the city of tens of thousands of dollars in potential camera-issued traffic violations by obscuring its trucks’ license plates.

According to a Brooklyn pediatrician-cum-citizen vigilante who regularly reports idlers, Con Edison routinely flips up its license plates so that they are entirely concealed and wholly unreadable by traffic cameras — giving the company’s employees free rein to speed or go through red lights with impunity. (See videos below of two recent instances.)

“Clearly, they are trying to get out of getting tickets,” said Patrick Schnell. “I’ve accumulated close to 50 trucks that I have cured from that disease, so to speak. They’re avoiding accountability for traffic-related infractions. It’s anti-social, and they’re not being good citizens and stealing money from New York City.”

Con Edison has already amassed more than 3,700 unpaid idling tickets issued by the Department of Environmental Protection through its citizen reporting program since 2019 — worth some $3.8 million — Streetsblog reported last month. It’s impossible to quantify the cost of all the other camera-issued tickets the electric company has managed to avoid because of its obscured plates, but according to City Comptroller Brad Lander, the city missed out on more than $100 million in lost revenue last year due to the “worsening problem" of vehicles with obscured or covered license plates.

In regular enforcement efforts that he films, Schnell discreetly moves to the back of one of the trucks in question and reveals the license plate that had been folded upward. He has dubbed the maneuver a “Con Ed speciality,” as opposed to some other popular tricks of the trade, like covering a letter on the plate with tape or a leaf.

Where's the plate?
Almost there.Patrick Schnell
Now you see it!

They’re very easy to spot, he said. And one plate in particular that Schnell noticed folded up last month had racked up half a dozen tickets for infractions like speeding and going through red lights in 2022, according to How's My Driving — before its driver, or the company, got the bright idea to obscure it.

“They’re very conspicuous and very loud. I hear them a block or two blocks away and in that context I notice the bent license plates,” said Schnell. “After I noticed 20 or 30, I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’” (Unbending the plates could make Schnell subject to a charge of criminal mischief, as Streetsblog has reported in news stories and a song.)

A spokesperson for Con Ed said the company "investigate(s) and take(s) appropriate action" when it gets reports of its license plates "being obscured or altered in any improper way."

The NYPD declined to comment.

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