NYPD Still Resisting Attempts to Reform Parking Placard Abuse

Fraudulent parking placards are rampant in NYC, but NYPD remains opposed to a bill that would require the city to include a barcode on placards to ensure proper enforcement.

It may look official, but this “Amtrak police surgeon” placard was not issued by the city. Still, NYPD is in no hurry to cut down on placard fraud. Photo: Noah Kazis

Testifying before the City Council transportation committee today, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Richard Schroeder cited “significant fiscal, operational, and technological issues that… cannot be resolved within the one year effective date of the legislation” as one reason why the department opposes Intro 326, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick. When Garodnick introduced a similar bill in 2011, it also met resistance from NYPD.

Schroeder said the legislation doesn’t give NYPD enough time to build a secure database of placards issued to city agencies by DOT and NYPD. He also noted that barcodes would not be able to completely prevent the fraudulent reproduction of placards, since they can be easily scanned and copied. He said NYPD was open to other strategies to improve enforcement, and expressed hope that DOT’s adoption of pay-by-phone parking technology could help mitigate the problem.

DOT Assistant Commissioner for Parking Operations Mike Marisco later testified that pay-by-phone “will also provide opportunities for much more efficient ways of managing permits.” While that’s intriguing, it’s not at all clear how placard management will be improved by a better parking meter payment system. Fake placards, after all, let people park without paying a cent.

There are approximately 104,000 valid NYC parking placards in circulation, with the largest chunk distributed to members of NYPD. They entitle the placard holder to park for free in any legal parking spot.

The placard system is problematic for several reasons, including the fact that it creates a huge incentive to drive for tens of thousands of public employees in some of the most transit-rich parts of the city. Legitimate placards are often abused as entitlements to park illegally in bus stops, crosswalks, or no-standing zones. Fake placards are shockingly easy to produce and work as well as the real thing. The mere sight of something vaguely official-looking on a dashboard is enough to intimidate enforcement agents.

In some neighborhoods, particularly those with high concentrations of police and other government offices, placard-holders often claim much of the available curb space.

Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents Chinatown and Lower Manhattan, said that vehicles with parking placards are hogging curb space all over her district. “The Chinatown BID did a survey and found that almost one-quarter of the available on street parking were taken over by placard parking,” she said. “Walk up and down the street on 7th Avenue and look at some of these placards. They don’t look real — but, you know, you never see a ticket on these cars.”

Schroeder played down the scale of abuse and fraud by citing the rate of complaints filed with NYPD. Between 2013 and 2015, NYPD received 480 placard abuse complaints and 68 complaints of fraudulent use, 56 of which were substantiated. Approximately 100 placards are reported stolen or missing each year.

Tracking only complaints seems to severely understate the scale of the problem. A 2011 study by Transportation Alternatives found that 57 percent of permits in the city were either misused or completely fraudulent.

TA Policy and Research Manager Julia Kite testified that placard fraud is so rampant that it can only be addressed by reducing the number of permits and eventually eliminating the placard system. In the absence of thorough placard reform, Kite suggested other ways the city could better manage on-street parking, including the expansion of DOT’s PARK Smart program, which adjusts meter prices in response to demand, cutting down on cruising for parking spots.

DOT’s Marisco didn’t bring up PARK Smart at all.

DOT is working on a new pay-by-phone system, and the convenience of mobile payment has greased the way for more sophisticated parking pricing in other cities. Another bill, Intro 966, would require the city to deploy mobile parking payment by this April, but Marisco had no timetable for pay-by-phone in NYC.

A mobile payment system was piloted around Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, he noted, but that ended nearly two years ago. Marisco said some of the technology still needs to be fine-tuned.

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said he called the hearing to draw attention to “new ways of thinking when it comes to parking.”

“Our city’s policy should reflect a goal of moving people away from single-occupancy vehicles and more towards mass transit,” Rodriguez said in his opening statement. “Parking can play a key role in this vision.”

Based on the city’s testimony, however, parking policy is changing at a glacial pace, if at all.