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NYPD fights bills to rein in parking placard abuse

City Council is considering legislation to stop the misuse of the parking perks.

Vehicles with parking permits or other agency paraphernalia

Vehicles with parking permits or other agency paraphernalia are parked on the sidewalk of Hamilton Avenue in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island in February. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

The NYPD is pushing back against new legislation to reform and crack down on parking placard misuse.

 The legislative package aims to rein in a common practice in which municipal workers use parking placards to leave their vehicles in illegal locations — such as on sidewalks, in bus lanes or in crosswalks — whether on duty or off. 

“This is irresponsible; it’s dangerous and it’s selfish behavior. And if you’re doing it with a real or fake placard, it’s corruption,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who introduced three of the five bills in package at a Council hearing on Wednesday. 

“To be clear … the days of giving a free pass on illegal parking are over,” he added. “Personal convenience cannot trump safety or the needs of bus riders, pedestrians and cyclists.”

Representatives from the Police Department, which critics believe includes the most frequent abusers of the parking perks, testified Wednesday, however, against each of the five bills. The department opposed two of them outright and significantly pushed back against the other three. 

“We acknowledge that placard misuse by city personnel, including our personnel, at times has occurred,” said Oleg Chernyavsky, the NYPD’s executive director of legislative affairs. “However, we take this issue seriously and have dedicated personnel specifically to maintain the integrity of the city-issued parking permit system.”

While placards are handed out through all levels of government, the city itself hands out around 125,000 to various departments. Johnson described that number as “crazy” high, but Chernyavsky said the placards were critical to expediting city operations and police responses by alleviating the need to find unrestricted parking. City officials in attendance also signaled that the placards were justifiably issued. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio had recently announced his own to plan to better track and regulate placards through a new digitized system to be implemented by 2021.

The Council’s legislative package would require dozens of targeted enforcement blitzes each week; a 311 feature with the sole aim of accepting complaints and photographs of placard misuse; the towing of any vehicle blocking sidewalks, crosswalks, hydrants and bike and bus lanes; and the creation of a “standard application process” for the issuance of placard permits.

Chernyavsky said the NYPD “seriously” enforced against workers misusing real placards, or workers using paraphernalia or handwritten notes in their place. Police issued 54,608 summonses last year for “parking placard misuse” — almost 150 a day — according to Chernyavsky.

But Johnson, his colleagues and advocates said they felt that effort had barely made a dent in worker behavior. They described seeing abuse of placards every day around civic centers in the city, or through the @placardabuse Twitter account, and noted the perception that traffic agents were uncomfortable ticketing their own. 

“What we’re seeing now isn’t working,” Johnson said. “Something needs to change.”

Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC, a transportation safety-focused political action committee, said the NYPD needs to get on board with some sort of reform. 

“It’s disappointing that the problem isn’t taken more seriously by the department,” McClure said. “It’s clear how great the problem is in New York City and the NYPD needs to be a partner in fixing it.”

This story has been updated to include the Department of Transportation's revised figure on the number of parking placards in circulation.

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