Many Still Get Parking Placards Despite Talk of Reform

Despite calls for reform, many state employees still get "free parking" cards.

When New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben announced Thursday that the state’s police parking placard policy was so slipshod it "invited abuse," she immediately followed with two numbers meant to convey stern reform. She said the number of police placards had been cut from 1,730 to 261– an 84 percent reduction.

But that doesn't mean the total number of placards has been cut by that much.

Many users have been shifted to "official business" placards, which are more restrictive than police placards — those that read "This vehicle is on official police business."

The "official business" placards allow users to park in commercial zones and spots near some government offices.  But in total, there are still nearly 2,000 placards in circulation, a 10 percent reduction from previous years.

The state has 3,500 placards at its disposal, according to the Office of Court Administration, which has in the past overseen production of the placards.

WNYC's Transportation Nation first reported on the use of those placards last week.

Biben said the executive branch had previously issued 2,210 of them. After the inspector general's review of users, there are now a total of 1,993 placards in circulation. Officials said that number is necessary because state employees, such as food inspectors, need the placards to drive to multiple locations to do their jobs.

Giving out a mere 217 more placards would get the state back to its pre-crackdown number, though most of them would be "official business" rather than police placards.

Advocates like Transportation Alternatives have called for big reductions in the use of parking placards because they say easy parking encourages people to drive more at a time when politicians are encouraging people to use transit, bike, walk or carpool. After a brouhaha a couple years ago about the loose distribution of placards to New York City employees, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he'd reduce the number from 140,000 to something less than half of that.

Biben said the real innovation is that each new state-issued placard has an ID number tying it to the user's license plate number. That should reduce the practice of passing them around. Each placard also shows the name of the agency for whom the bearer works. For example, a restaurant inspector's placard would read "Board of Health."

The new placards have a one-year expiration date, which presumably means an annual review of whether the user really needs it to do his job. And a government employee must now apply for a placard, which was not the case before. Employees must now also sign an agreement saying they will only use it on government business. If a worker gets caught using a placard on personal business or in violation of other guidelines, he could face civil and criminal penalties.

The governor’s Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, who was at the press conference with Biben, said he's counting on the public to report misuse of the privilege though he didn't say how besides calling the inspector general's office. When asked if he'd list placard bearers online by agency and job title, he said he would look into it.

Transportation Alternatives said the best way to insure proper use of the placards would be to stamp each one with a bar code that could be scanned by traffic enforcement agents.