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Transportation Nation

Report Finds Over Half of NYC Parking Placards Surveyed Are Either Bogus or Used Improperly

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Despite the Bloomberg administration's 2008 crackdown on counterfeit and improperly used parking placards, a new report say the city's system of issuing and overseeing the permits "remains broken."

Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, found 57 percent of placards examined on the dashboards of vehicles in five New York business districts were either legal placards used illegally, or outright fakes. The rate of bogus placards is 95 percent in the courthouse area of Lower Manhattan, the report says, where only 11 of 244 placards surveyed were being properly used.

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The report's authors claim one in four of the 1,450 permits examined was a fake. They go on to extrapolate from the city's current claim of 78,000 legal placards that anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 fraudulent placards are now in use by drivers. To give scale to those numbers, there are 12,000 yellow cabs in New York. The report says placard abuse in the courthouse area has actually increased since the group last studied the issue in 2007.

In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg directed every city agency to reduce its parking placards by 20 percent. He also centralized the issuance of placards to the New York Police Department and Department of Transportation. The city's best guess at the time was there were 150,000 to 170,000 parking permits in use--and those were just the legal ones.

"Parking placards are a necessary tool for conducting City business, but we have no tolerance for their abuse, which contributes to congestion," said Mayor Bloomberg at the time. "We will give out placards only to those who need to use them to further the public interest."

Apparently, that is a goal only partly realized. Transportation Alternatives researchers, who canvassed five busy neighborhoods in January, say they found a stubborn pattern of abuse. Bogus placards included official-looking permits unrecognized by the city, photocopies of real permits, expired permits and personal effects used as permits: transit vests, patrol manuals and even a sheet of paper scrawled with the letters "NYPD." Drivers typically used the bogus placards to double-park or leave their vehicles on sidewalks or in bike or bus lanes.

The report says the entire placard system once again needs an overhaul: "Each step in the process—from creation of the permits, to distribution and enforcement—is fatally flawed, creating a system wrought with abuse and lacking effective oversight."

Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser disagreed. He said the city has cut the number of placards in half and works hard at enforcement. "Working with the Internal Affairs Bureau, the NYPD regularly tows cars using placards inappropriately," he said in and email. "In terms of fake placards, they get ticketed."

And city officials added that since the NYPD established its special Internal Affairs Bureau Placard enforcement program in April 2008, it has issued 28,000 summonses, towed 6,000 vehicles, and arrested 32 people for unauthorized use or duplication of official placards.

Transportation Alternatives says 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.

Read TA's Parking Placard Report.

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WNYC News

Many Still Get Parking Placards Despite Talk of Reform

Friday, April 08, 2011

WNYC

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

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: EV Sales Boost US Economy, NJ Highways "Deficient," and Amtrak Sets Ridership Record

Friday, April 08, 2011

Chevy Volt (Photo: GM)

Are sales of electric vehicles behind the growth in the US economy? (The Takeaway)

Toyota and Nissan restart production (Marketplace).

The nuclear disaster in Japan could undermine support for nuclear power here in the US -- and build support for natural gas. (NPR)

A new report says half of New Jersey's highways are deficient. (AP via the Star-Ledger)

More on New York's parking placards in the NY Daily News and NY Times.

Can smartphones -- with commuting apps -- get people out of cars and onto public transit? (Wired)

Amtrak says it's on track for record ridership. (The Hill)

Will a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons spur economic development -- or acres of empty parking lots? (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Los Angeles Metro launched what it says is the nation's first major public transit agency's Spanish language blog (The Source). Called El Pasajero, the blog formally launches today.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: NY Gov. Cuomo tightens parking placard rules; Caltrain isn't slashing service...yet; traffic light timing is adjusted in Central Park's loop; Dulles's Metrorail link answers the question 'over or under?,' and: how much high-speed rail will $2.4 billion buy?

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Transportation Nation

Gov Cuomo's Office Announces Tightened Rules on Parking Placards

Friday, April 08, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Governor Cuomo's Director of State Operations Howard Glaser said that from now on the state will use a new method to distribute parking placards to its employees. The old way, he said, was to hand them out "like candy" to friends and family of the politically connected. The new way, he said, will be to keep track of every employee who has one and how he or she is using it.

The changes come after an investigation by New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben found widespread distribution of police parking placards to government employees who had no police business to conduct.

"It was a system that had no clear guidelines governing the appropriate uses of the placards, which made enforcement of the abuses nearly impossible," Biben said. "Quite simply, it was a system that invited abuse."

She said a crackdown on the distribution of police parking placards to state employees has reduced their number by eighty-four percent. But thanks to a new "official business" type of placard, which more than 1,000 employees have qualified for, the overall number of state parking placards has dropped by only ten percent.

Glaser said the real advance is that every state parking placard now has an ID that can be tracked back to its user, making it easier to report and investigate misuses of the privilege.

Government workers must now be approved by the state police or the Governor's Office of Public Safety before they can get a parking placard. Applicants must also sign an agreement saying they will only use the placard on government business. If a government worker is found to be misusing a placard, he could face both civil and criminal penalties.

Glaser said the ID number on every placard will empower the public to turn in suspected placard abusers. "What you will be able to do is to look at the number on a placard and if you believe that the parking is inappropriate, that can be reported to local law enforcement or to the state police," he said. A report can also be made through the complaint page on the Inspector General's website.

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WNYC News

Cuomo Says He’ll Put a Stop to Parking Placard Abuse

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

WNYC

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the practice of issuing parking placards to state employees and elected officials "is prone to abuse" and he is planning to overhaul the entire system.

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Transportation Nation

Full Text of Cuomo's Remarks on Parking Placard Abuse

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When we reported last week that Governor Cuomo was continuing to issue thousands of parking placards a year, his office told us he was "reviewing" the matter.  That's a pretty standard brush-off that politicians give reporters -- they don't want to magnify a story by giving you a quote, and they hope by saying they're reviewing it the whole story will go away and they will never have to think about it again.

But that wasn't the script here.

To recap, we reported that the the state division of homeland security was continuing to issue some 3500 placards a year, despite Cuomo's election slogan of promising to "end business as usual."  The placards say the bearer is on "official police business," even though, in many cases, the placards go to elected officials and state staffers who have no law enforcement responsibilities.

With them, staffers can (and sometimes do) park anywhere, any time in New York City, where to say parking is at a premium is like saying water is valuable in the Sahara.

And having a placard means it's that much easier to drive to work, or on an errand, rather than use mass transit, at a time when many officials are encouraging people to reduce carbon emissions and relieve congestion by taking mass transit.

Despite repeated requests, we couldn't get the division of homeland security -- or anyone in the Cuomo administration -- to explain who got the placards, or why.

But it turns out, the matter really was under review. The state inspector General, Ellen Biben, has investigated several instances where placards were reported to be used in appropriately. Her conclusion: the whole system is flawed and needs to be redesigned. Cuomo agreed -- his remarks follow.

Here's the full text of Governor Cuomo's remarks on parking placard abuse, from a question-and-answer session with reporters in Albany today.

And here's the audio if you want to listen along.

"Police Placards are actually an abuse that goes back fifteen, twenty years I’ll bet when you look. Every nine months there’s a story on abuse of a police placard.  It’s one of those situations that the design of the system is prone to abuse.

"There are a number of specific case of alleged abuse of police placards.

"Police placards are issued to state employees, elected officials, to be used when they are on official business and they are put in the windshield of the car and the car is allowed to park in areas.  They are also used to gain admission to secure areas.

"A number of specific incidents were being investigated by the inspector general. The inspector general has reported that she believes the entire system is flawed and that unless you redesign the system you will have those incidents of abuse recurring.

"And that does make sense to me and we’re going to follow the recommendation of the inspector general and reform the system.  We will be announcing that shortly."

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Cuomo Says He'll Rein in Placard Abuse

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When we reported on this last week, the Governor was, essentially, mum.  But now he says he'll act to contain abuse of parking placards by government officials.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he expects to overhaul the use of placards that some politicians have used on their cars to avoid parking tickets in New York City.

Cuomo says he'll act on recommendations from his inspector general, who's expected to release her report soon. The placards placed on dashboards are issued by the state Homeland Security Department.

Cuomo says Wednesday he suspects the placards proclaiming the car is parked "for official police business" have been misused by some elected officials and state workers for 15 to 20 years. They are used to snag a good parking spot without fear of a ticket.

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Transportation Nation

New York State Continuing to Issue Thousands of Parking Placards

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Subaru in Lower Manhattan parking in a no parking zone displays placard that says "this vehicle is on official police business." Photo: Andrea Bernstein

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is continuing to issue some 3500 parking placards to state legislators and state government employees. Those placards permit the bearer to park in most areas in New York City where others could not.  Many of the permits say “this vehicle is on official police business,” even though they are frequently carried by officials with no law enforcement responsibilities.

The practice is not new – it’s so accepted that spokespeople for the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader could not immediately say how the placards are distributed, who gets them, or why.   But, according to Queens State Senator Tony Avella, who cut up his placard and then issued a press release about it, “it’s the kind of business-as-usual we promised to reform.”

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Governor Andrew Cuomo was swept in last November -- a Democrat winning in a pro-Republican year around the country -- on a platform of bringing a new era of ethical responsibility to Albany, a notoriously dysfunctional state government.    To the relief of many New Yorkers, he said he would "end business as usual."

Avella said he would not use his placard because, as a State Senator, he should experience New York the way his constituents do “and that includes looking for parking.”  Avella also said “I’m not on official police business, nor is any politician who gets one of these on official police business.”

Other elected officials have said in the past that having the placards enables them to attend several community events in a day, and that driving around looking for parking would mean they couldn’t serve their constituents as effectively.

Despite repeated inquiries over the course of a week, Governor Cuomo’s spokesperson, Joshua Vlasto, did not explain why the placards refer to “official police business,” even though that is not the case.

Some years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced a controversy when it was revealed that there were some 140,000 placards in use by city employees.  Those placards also used to refer to “official police business.”  But the Mayor promised to reduce city placards by half, and changed the language for non-law enforcement officers to “this vehicle is on official city business.”

The placards were a potential embarrassment because nothing irks a New York City resident more than the whiff of a city official getting a privilege he or she does not.  But also, making it easier for city employees to park is an inducement to drive to work at a time when Mayor Bloomberg is encouraging people to drive less and take mass transit more.   Other mayors around the country have also been  eliminating employee parking privileges for that reason, notably former Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, who took away the right of city employees to park free at meters.

When asked if Governor Cuomo would look at changing practices involving the state permits, Vlasto said in an email, “we are reviewing the matter.”

Right now, some 6000 placards are distributed by the state, according to the David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, which oversees the production of the placards.  Some 3500 go to New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.  Those placards say “State of New York Executive Branch.”  A spokesman for that Division, Dennis Michalski, could not immediately say on Friday how the recipients of those 3500 placards are chosen.

In addition, Bookstaver said, some 2500 placards are distributed to the New York State Judiciary – and some of those – about a hundred, go to the New York State Department of Environmental Protection, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Waterfront Commission. Those entities do have law enforcement responsibilities.

Senator Tony Avella's placard, cut down the middle

Senator Avella was unsure how he was chosen to receive one.  He said his placard was delivered to his Albany office, and that his understanding was that all State Senators received them.  A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader, Dean Skelos, whose party regained power after two years on the outs, Scott Rief,  said placards had been distributed previously by majority leaders as a perk, but he said that practice had ended.  The Governor’s office did not offer clarification on how the placards are distributed.

The pro-transit advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, has been working for many years to shine on light on the practice, which it says encourages the use of personal vehicles over other forms of transportation, a practice they say is environmentally harmful.    TA’s Noah Budnick said “this is one of those things that recipients don’t question, because things have always been done this way.  But widespread distribution of placards for people who don’t need them has got to stop.”

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WNYC News

State Continuing Practice of Issuing Thousands of Parking Permits

Sunday, March 27, 2011

WNYC

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is continuing to issue thousand of parking placards to state legislators and state government employees. Those placards permit the bearer to park in most areas in New York City where others could not. Many of the permits read "This vehicle is on official police business," even though they are frequently carried by officials with no law enforcement responsibilities.

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