Testimony to City Council Transportation Committee in support of Intro. 465 (Garodnick) “The Authentic Placard Act"

Testimony of Paul Steely White
Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives
June 22nd, 2011 Transportation Hearing

Intro. 465 (Garodnick) “The Authentic Placard Act”
A Local Law to amend the New York city charter, in relation to requiring parking placards to have a barcode which would allow traffic enforcement agents to confirm their validity.

Thank you Chairman Vacca, and esteemed members of the Transportation Committee:

The public is appalled at the ticket fixing scandal. The story continues to demand headlines, has reduced New Yorker’s opinion of the police, and has even resulted in several juries entirely discrediting testimony of officers who have been connected to the scandal. Yet tens of thousands of tickets are “fixed” every day in this City before they’re even written, by officers who unintentionally or otherwise are stymied by our permit system. This must end.

Free parking is very valuable, which means that bogus permits are very valuable. The City, however, doesn’t take the necessary steps to safeguard this prize. That failure damages small business, degrades New Yorkers’ quality of life, and jeopardizes public safety. We allow the law to be violated in brazen fashion, and this disrespect has broken the permit system. Councilman Garodnick’s bill establishes a clear path out of this predicament. We recommend swift passage of the Authentic Permit Act.

*Free parking is very valuable, which makes bogus permits valuable:

In Park Slope a garaged parking space has been listed with a broker for $59,500. Someone who drives to work at 250 Broadway could expect to pay $500 each month, or $6000 a year for a parking space at a local garage.

A bogus permit, however, can be obtained for free from a friend or from a union delegate; can be designed through the use of Photoshop; or for the low fee of $250, can be purchased on the Internet. Each of these illegal options represents tremendous value.

*The consequences of the City’s failure to crack down on fraudulent permit bearers

There are tens of thousands of counterfeit or illegally issued permits around the city. Our research shows that approximately twenty-five percent of permits which appear on dashboards are either photocopies or facsimiles of authentic permits, bogus permits issued by private groups that only seem official, or are otherwise bogus.

Bearers of illicit permits are the bane of small business, as they tend to park in high-traffic areas for hours on end, clogging up loading zones and metered-parking intended for customers.

Bearers of illicit permits also degrade New Yorker’s quality of life, by parking in driveways, bus stops, or on sidewalks.

Bearers of illicit permits often endanger the lives of others, by parking in crosswalks, illegally double-parking (which causes other motorists to swerve), or by blocking fire hydrants.

*The law is violated in brazen fashion

It is against the law of NYC to counterfeit an official permit, or to possess a counterfeit permit. In addition, someone who knowingly uses a bogus permit is guilty of possession of a forged instrument in the third degree and someone who has created a bogus permit has committed forgery in the second degree.

No one who uses a bogus permit is afraid of being punished, however, because the law is simply not enforced. Our reports shows that there are thousands of fake permits on the street right now, and an even larger number of permits that are issued by unions and other associations on the expectation they will be acknowledged as a “courtesy.”

Specifically, for our report we surveyed 1,450 permits used in every borough in the City. Only 37% or permits parkers parked legally in these areas. Of the other 57% (820):

• 477 (33%) were apparently legal permits used illegally (i.e., parking in a fire zone, parking in front of a hydrant, parking on a sidewalk)
• 215 (63%) appeared to be union-issued, and were therefore not legally authorized.
• 29 (9%) were obvious fakes (i.e., referring to non-existent agencies)
• 28 (8%) were obviously photocopied
• 38 (11%) had expired
• 29 instances of personal affects standing in for a permit (8%)
The permit system is broken

The dizzying array of official city-issued permits – over 17 different designs!- confuses agents and complicates enforcement. Each of these 17 designs is subject to a different set of rules regarding enforceability, which further complicates the officer’s task.

Enforcement officers should not, and cannot, devote their time to determining a permits’ authenticity. Enforcement officers need to be able to distinguish the real from the phony with certainty and ease in order to do their job efficiently.

*Councilman Garodnick’s bill establishes a clear path out of this predicament

Councilman Garodnick’s bill solves the problem by eliminating subjectivity which slows enforcement. His bill requires official permits to feature a bar code, so enforcement agents can determine with a quick scan whether the driver is legally parked.

This proactive approach costs nothing, and will save the City millions of dollars a year in new parking meter revenue. The bill will also make parking spots more available for small business owners to accept deliveries, for customers to find parking, and for residents of neighborhoods plagued by this issue.

*There are a few recommendations that Transportation Alternatives has for the bill which we respectfully ask the Council to consider:

a) To be effective, the bar code must contain information which corresponds to the vehicle(s) it vouches for, or else a permit may be transferred between users or photocopied without consequence.

b) Once city-issued permits have bar codes, enforcement agents must scan the bar codes and enforce the law. We recommend the Council watchdog the Police Department to ensure that the law is applied universally and all scannable permits are scanned, and all non-scannable permits are identified as false and appropriate actions are taken.

c) Once city-issued permits have bar codes, it is likely there need not be 17 different designs for City issued permits. With bar code technology, the enforcement officer no longer needs to know which agency permit authorizes parking in which location – they can scan and receive the answer instantaneously. The variety of permits makes enforcement more difficult for enforcement agents, and we hope that the Council crafts legislation in a way that discourages this practice from continuing.

d) There is a significant amount of information that can be contained in a bar code, and significantly more can be stored in other, similarly free technologies like QR code. We recommend the Council investigate these technologies. For instance, some permits authorize the bearer to park at locations specially designated for their agency. These signs are complicated for ordinary motorists to understand, and they can be replaced by this smart technology. As another example, the system can create accountability by including geographic information (a permit which authorizes a specific employee to visit sites in Queens would raise a red flag when found in that employee’s residential neighborhood in Brooklyn).

e) We recommend working with our partners in Albany to require the design and distribution of Federal, State and City permits to be completed in a coordinated fashion which prioritizes respect for the law and respect for the citizens of New York while minimizing the variety of permits on the street.

f) We ask the Council to take this opportunity to consider the benefits of adding more parking enforcement, which frees up parking for shoppers, collects revenue from meters, and sends a strong message that the parking rules apply to everyone.

g) We ask the Council to require an annual permit tracking system, because you cannot solve a problem if you can’t measure it. The system could, among other things, require the City’s agencies to disclose how many permits they grant, which criteria they use to decide who receives a permit, and their objective in granting those permits – all important information for policymakers.

Secondary Title
Requiring parking placards to have a barcode which would allow traffic enforcement agents to confirm theri validity.