Wednesday’s Headlines: We FOIL Stuff, Too Edition

A defaced plate (one of several!) that we spotted in an NYPD parking space at the 84th Precinct in Downtown Brooklyn.
A defaced plate (one of several!) that we spotted in an NYPD parking space at the 84th Precinct in Downtown Brooklyn.

In yesterday’s headlines, we highlighted a great effort by reporter Reuven Blau to get information from the city Department of Transportation about the number of obscured or fake plates that are being spotted by (but then tricking) city speed cameras. Blau’s story, which he got via a Freedom of Information Law request, confirmed the common knowledge that the number is on the rise.

Blau’s good reporting reminded us of our own effort to find out about obscured plates, which we see all too frequently around police stationhouses and firehouses, as these city employees seem to be the worst offenders.

Back in January, 2019, journalist and Friend of Streetsblog Steven Bodzin filed a FOIL request with the MTA seeking the numbers on how many times a defaced or unreadable plate passes the scanners at the agency’s many bridges. Typically, the MTA pledges to respond within 30 days, but in this case, the agency finally provided the information for seven months of 2018 in July 2020. At that point, mid-pandemic, we felt the information was so outdated that we didn’t use it. That’s on us. But what’s on the MTA is how many drivers don’t get tolled (or at least weren’t getting tolled in 2018; Blau’s story suggests the number is probably 3 percent higher now.)

Here’s the weird photo of a piece of paper we got from the MTA:

The 2018 numbers are here! The 2018 numbers are here! Chart: MTA
The 2018 numbers are here! The 2018 numbers are here! Chart: MTA

As you can see, 118,464 cars with obstructed plates (either intentionally or “unintentionally,” whatever that means) did not get tickets during those seven months out of the 9,286,640 plates that were sent tickets (the larger number above includes all the E-Z Pass transactions, too).

In other words, about 1.3 percent of the drivers are plate-defacing scofflaws, which is roughly similar to what Blau found for city speed cameras.

But here’s one fun fact: Of those hundred-thousand-plus plates that failed to register, only 7,572 drivers were summonsed, the MTA told Bodzin. That’s just 6.4 percent. In other words, the scam works.

In other news:

  • New Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch says her patrol officers (yes the DSNY has cops) will write more tickets to pooper-scooper law scofflaws. (NY Post)
  • The MTA is treading into seriously dangerous debt waters, says state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. (amNY)
  • Speaking of the MTA, CEO Janno Lieber says he’ll crack down on fare evasion, claiming it’s linked to crime. (NYDN, NY Post, amNY). More likely, the agency wants the $500 million it loses to fare evasion every year. And while some fare beaters end up committing crimes, the vast majority are simply poor people who can’t afford a swipe or don’t want to spend their hard-earned cash on bus service that stinks. It’s a bad look to criminalize poverty, so fortunately there is some talk about expanding reduced fare programs for low-income New Yorkers.
  • Meanwhile, Jose Martinez of The City had some fun with Lieber’s idea of a “blue ribbon panel” to advise him on fare beating:

And our own Dave Colon had fun with Lieber’s Freudian psychology:

  • A police chief in a New Jersey town drove drunk and recklessly, which is why we are so often drawing attention to reckless and drunk driving by NYPD officers. (NY Post)
  • The latest episode of the War on Cars podcast is live (well, on tape) from the New York International Car Show. Catch co-hosts Doug Gordon and Sarah Goodyear venture into enemy territory to reveal the heinousness of the car culture complex. (For instance: Did you know that drivers of 800-horsepower Dodge assault cars are offered a free training course so they know how to handle such powerful, anti-city vehicles?)
  • Some people in Queens are concerned about climate change because some parts of Queens will be underwater if we don’t solve that problem. Funny how many residents of Queens are equally concerned about efforts to reduce driving by boasting cycling. (QNS)