New York City is owed more than $1 billion in unpaid parking and speeding tickets, according to a new report from the Independent Budget Office.
The IBO, a publicly funded but nonpartisan government watchdog agency, announced its findings in a letter to Upper West Side Councilmember Gale Brewer, who had requested the information.
The agency identified $1.02 billion in unpaid traffic fines between 2017 and 2022, for parking tickets and automated camera fines for speeding, running red lights, or “unauthorized use of bus lanes.”
More than $5.8 billion of fines have been doled out since 2017, with $4.78 billion having been repaid as of last month. About 10% of fines issued in 2017, 2018, and 2019 have not been paid, the agency noted, with those percentages growing in subsequent years up to 29% in 2022.
The debt includes the initial ticket value as well as interest and late fees. Camera-issued tickets start at $50, while the cost of a parking violation varies widely depending on the specific infraction. Tickets must be resolved or formally disputed within 30 days of issuance; if unpaid or undisputed after 100 days, the city can enter a default judgment and farm out the debt to a collection agency. With over $350 in unpaid fees, the city can boot or tow a vehicle.
Annual fines issued surpassed the $1 billion mark in both 2021 and 2022. However, the IBO notes that accumulated unpaid fines grew at a faster rate than the new issuance of tickets. The agency says that indicates a higher proportion of fines have been going unpaid in the past two years.
IBO director Louisa Chafee noted in her letter that the report’s findings — which also included the total amount of unpaid summonses issued by other city agencies — are “by no means exhaustive” and are “likely an undercount of the total amount of debt that the city is owed.”
The report revealed that there was $150 million in unpaid property taxes, bills, and fees, as well as $940 million in uncollected “public safety and quality of life” fines. The total amount of unpaid fines across all agencies topped $2.1 billion.
The news comes a day after the Adams administration demanded all city agencies cut their budgets by a further 4%, following two such belt-tightening dictates last year. Mayor Eric Adams says austerity measures are needed due to the costs associated with an influx of migrants as well as labor negotiations. He has also cited budget headwinds in Albany.
But the cost-cutting measures have been lambasted by several city officials.
City Comptroller Brad Lander deemed the reductions “a blunt approach that cuts arbitrarily rather than plans strategically for the future,” while City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said they are being made “without regard for the impact it has on New Yorkers, the delivery of essential services, and our city’s economy.” Municipal agencies across the board have faced significant challenges as thousands of vacant positions are left unfilled.
Brewer, who requested the information on uncollected fees, said on Wednesday that the administration should not push further cuts before collecting the money it’s already owed.
“OMB should unearth every available dime before telling agencies to make cuts,” Brewer said on Twitter. “An extra $2.1 billion would go a long way toward funding legal service providers, keeping libraries open, and baselining positions at oversight agencies. Thank you IBO for this important analysis.”
Reached for comment, a City Hall spokesperson noted that ticket collection had dropped during the pandemic as penalties were suspended, and have risen since the resumption of enforcement. The Adams administration is also encouraging those with outstanding balances to pay what they owe.
“At a time when the city faces significant fiscal and economic headwinds, ensuring the city collects unpaid fines is of critical importance,” said Adams spokesperson Jonah Allon. “The collection of fines from parking ticket and camera violations was adversely impacted by the pandemic due to lower issuance and suspension of penalty assessments, filing of judgments, and booting operations during this time. Since the city resumed enforcement operations in the Spring of 2022, the amount of money collected in fines has risen sharply. As always, the city is committed to
collecting outstanding and additional fines fairly and efficiently.”
The city has collected $768 million in fines from parking and camera violations in the first eight months of Fiscal Year 2023, compared to $643 million in the same time period the year prior.
“We encourage all New Yorkers to pay their outstanding summonses in a timely fashion to avoid adverse consequences, such as liens and the accruing of interest on the legally imposed penalties,” Allon continued.
The city’s Department of Transportation has said that speeding tickets have dipped dramatically since the Big Apple was given permission by Albany last year to turn on automated school-zone speed cameras 24/7, instead of just during school hours, suggesting drivers are correcting reckless behavior.
However, the city has done little to curb the widespread cheating of automated cameras and tolls by drivers who intentionally deface or cover their license plates, costing the municipal coffers untold amounts of additional cash and enabling consequence-free reckless driving.
Last year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which collects tolls on seven bridges and tunnels across New York City, said it loses about $50 million per year to license plate scofflaws. A huge black market has also popped up for fake paper “temporary tags” to evade cameras and tolls, Streetsblog reported this week.
This story has been updated with comment from City Hall