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The traffic choking New York City streets has brought new congestion fees on taxis and Ubers and rallied support around a broader congestion pricing plan to charge all cars and trucks entering the busiest neighborhoods.
Now city officials are ratcheting up the fight against another traffic headache: parking scofflaws.
On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce new measures aimed at municipal employees who abuse city-issued parking placards that are intended to help them carry out their official duties, but too often are abused and contribute to clogged streets.
Many employees brazenly display the placards while parked illegally — including in crosswalks, on sidewalks and blocking bus and bike lanes — or while using personal vehicles when not working.
Under the de Blasio administration, the number of city-issued placards has soared and critics have accused the mayor of doing little to tackle the problem.
Now, city officials are promising a more aggressive campaign. A new enforcement team of traffic agents will issue tickets and target placard abuse in neighborhoods that have become hot spots, such as Downtown Brooklyn and Chinatown. Any placard found to be misused three times will be revoked under a new “three strikes” policy; previously, it had been left to the discretion of the agencies that issued the placards.
In addition, the city will make the misuse or fraudulent use of a placard a separate violation on top of any parking violation. Currently, placard abuse is treated as a parking violation and carries a $50 fine. City officials said they would push for changes to state law to establish a $250 fine for placard abuse.
The city also plans to test out stickers as a replacement for paper placards to make it harder to transfer placards to unauthorized vehicles. It will also develop a digital parking system by 2021 in which physical placards will be unnecessary because license plates will already be linked to a database and parking violations will be automatically issued through a so-called pay-by-plate system.
Still, none of the mayor’s measures will significantly reduce the total number of city-issued placards, which have nearly doubled to 125,500 in 2018 from 67,297 in 2008, according to city records. The largest chunk, 50,000, is issued by the Transportation Department for its own employees as well as those at other agencies. The Police Department issues another 44,000 to law enforcement officers, and the Education Department, 31,500 to teachers and school employees to park near their schools.
Transportation advocates say the police fail to vigorously target scofflaws, in part, because some officers themselves abuse their placards.
Advocates also accuse city officials of doling out parking placards as political favors to the powerful teachers’ unions and others, including 50,000 new placards for teachers and school employees in 2017. They said the city has helped create the problem because more placards lead to more opportunities for abuse and the oversupply of placards has encouraged more people to drive to work, putting more cars on the road.
“The elephant in the room is whether they can reduce placard abuse to everyone’s satisfaction without a meaningful reduction in the sheer number of placards,” said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, a grass-roots group of transit riders.
The placards, Mr. Pearlstein said, have essentially created a large class of privileged city workers, many of whom would otherwise be taking buses and subways. “It’s a question of fairness,” he said. “Plenty of people have to get to work on time and do work that is important to the life of the city.”
City officials said the 50,000 new placards for school employees were issued to resolve a labor dispute with the teachers’ union. Since then, the Education Department has reduced the number of placards and tightened oversight, including adopting an online application system, tracking names and vehicle information for every placard in a database and printing permits on paper that cannot be illegally copied.
The previous mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, challenged the city’s tradition of bestowing parking placards on city employees and in 2008 his administration cut the number in half to 67,297 from 144,048 the year before. Mr. de Blasio’s aides said the number of placards had crept back up to 103,000 by the time he took office in 2014.
Bruce Schaller, a consultant who helped lead the Bloomberg efforts, said any comprehensive effort to curb placard abuse would sputter unless placard numbers were reduced.
Still, Mr. Schaller said he believed the new measures were at least a start. “If there’s real follow-through to what they’re announcing, then people should be able to see improvement,” he said. “Will it completely solve the problem? I can guarantee you no, but New Yorkers are more realistic than that.”
The new measures follow renewed efforts by the City Council to cut down on placard abuse. Council members led by Speaker Corey Johnson have recently proposed bills that council aides said were similar to the mayor’s measures or would go even further, such as requiring at least 50 targeted enforcement sweeps every week by the Police Department that would be monitored by the Department of Investigation. The bills would also require enforcement officers to call for towing any vehicle blocking bike and bus lanes, crosswalks or fire hydrants.
“The council is thrilled the mayor has seen the light on placard abuse,” Mr. Johnson said. “And we are very much looking forward to working with him to remove this scourge from our streets once and for all.”
This is not the first time Mr. de Blasio has vowed to take on the chronic problem. In 2017, the mayor announced a citywide enforcement plan, including creating a new anti-placard-fraud police unit. As a result, city officials said, the number of summonses for illegal parking has risen to 54,608 last year from 28,269 in 2016. But placard abuses have continued, with egregious examples often documented on social media for all to see.
“Placard abuse erodes faith in government and has no place in our city — it’s simply a question of fairness,” the mayor said in a statement. “Misused and fraudulent placards increase congestion and pose a public safety risk. These initiatives give us the tools we need to start making a real dent in this pervasive issue, to help build a fairer city for all.”
Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, which manages three business improvement districts, said she welcomed the new measures. The neighborhood, which is home to city agency offices and courthouses, has been inundated with placard-carrying drivers who double park on streets and block traffic, leave cars on sidewalks and take up metered spots meant for visitors and shoppers, she said.
“I think it will go a long way in starting to check this problem,” she said. “Sadly, Downtown Brooklyn is really the Wild West of placard abuse.”