There Is No “Placard Crackdown” and That’s How NYPD Wants It

The City Council wants to track placard abuse so it can evaluate the extent of the problem. NYPD refuses to help.

The B41 in downtown Brooklyn can't use the bus lane thanks to chronic placard abuse, so riders sit in traffic instead. Photo: Ben Fried
The B41 in downtown Brooklyn can't use the bus lane thanks to chronic placard abuse, so riders sit in traffic instead. Photo: Ben Fried

New York City’s parking placard system is rife with fraud and abuse, littering streets with illegally parked cars that slow down buses, block pedestrian ramps, and generally gum up the surface transportation system for everybody. NYPD wouldn’t have it any other way.

At a City Council hearing today, NYPD resisted all attempts to reform, evaluate, and track the placard system, which serves as a license for the department’s workforce to park illegally with impunity.

It’s been more than a year since Mayor de Blasio pledged to “crack down” on parking placard abuse, shortly after expanding the city’s official placard supply by tens of thousands. At the time, de Blasio announced that the NYPD would hire 100 traffic agents and create a 16-officer unit dedicated to stopping placard abuse.

But since then, the department has towed a grand total of 89 vehicles for placard abuse, according to NYPD. Summonses for illegal use of placards went up, from 29,000 in 2016 to 52,000 in the last 12 months, but those are the only metrics police officials provided. NYPD didn’t say whether placard abuse is any more or less prevalent than before the “crackdown” started.

A tour of sites known for blatant placard abuse indicates little has actually changed: Placard holders continue to illegally park on sidewalks, crosswalks, bus lanes, and bike lanes.

In testimony before the City Council transportation committee today, NYPD Director of Legislative Affairs Oleg Chernyavsky batted away efforts by city council members to reform the system. Intro 942, proposed by Council Member Peter Koo, would task the Department of Transportation with coming up with a “comprehensive plan” for the distribution and use of city-issued placards.

“The department believes in reforming the parking permit system,” Chernyavsky said. “However, we are concerned with this legislation as it leaves the determination of how many parking permits the NYPD requires to another agency.” He expressed further “concern” that such a plan would limit the number of permits the NYPD can issue.

Chernyavsky also opposed the three other placard-related bills on the agenda.

Intro. 927, which would create an electronic tracking system for city-issued placards, would pose a “security” risk by putting NYPD information in a database outside of the agency’s control. It would also entail “a significant amount of work,” he said. Intro. 932, which would revoke the placard of any driver caught misusing their placard three or more times in a year, should be “best left to the agency’s internal disciplinary process.” And Intro. 314, requiring NYPD to compile quarterly placard abuse reports “cannot currently be accomplished with our existing capabilities.”

In other words, leave everything up to NYPD, and don’t expect any transparency whatsoever.

Neither Chernyavsky nor NYPD Traffic Enforcement District Commanding Officer Deputy Chief Michael Pilecki offered insight into how the bills could be amended to support their purported goal of placard reform.

In fact, they downplayed the problem altogether. Pilecki told committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez that the 89 vehicles towed in the last year was “not necessarily a low number.”

Rodriguez was not impressed. “We know that these numbers [are in] the thousands,” he told Pilecki.

Representing DOT, Chief Operating Officer Margaret Forgione expressed support for the “intent” of the various placard-related bills and outlined incremental steps DOT has taken to curb placard abuse: reducing the number of placards assigned to multiple vehicles, a requirement that new placards be approved by an agency commissioner or first deputy commissioner, an improved process for collecting old placards before issuing new ones, improved “holograms” on the placards themselves to prevent illegal duplication, and a new city rule creating specific violations for misusing or forging a parking placard.

That’s all fine, but it’s tinkering on the margins.

NYPD gives out 45,000 official placards to its officers. DOT distributes tens of thousands more to city employees. Many more federal and state officials receive placards, and there are untold thousands of fake placards and placard substitutes in circulation. As long as enforcement is left to traffic enforcement agents, who are low on the NYPD chain-of-command and may expect reprisals for ticketing the car of a powerful superior, placard holders can expect to get away with illegal parking.

The only real solution to the scourge of placard abusers blocking sidewalks, bike lanes, and bus stops is to reduce the number of placards, with the ultimate goal of eliminating them altogether.

No council members suggested as much today, but many expressed their frustration that NYPD and DOT were not seeking more systemic reforms to the system.

“We really have to have some strong enforcement on this issue,” said Council Member Margaret Chin, a sponsor of Intro. 932. “We want to make sure that the trust between our government and citizens is there. Residents see this abuse every day. We’ve got to do something.”