Council: Crack down on parking permits

Make text smaller Make text larger

Police push back on bills targeting misuse of city-issued placards


  • Illegally parked vehicles owned by city employees are a common sight on many Chinatown streets near City Hall and NYPD headquarters. Photo: @placardabuse, via Twitter.

  • The Twitter account @placardabuse posts photos of illegally-parked vehicles displaying city-issued parking permits. Image: @placardabuse, via Twitter.

“Every day, in every corner of our city, we see someone using an illegal placard.”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez

For most New Yorkers, parking in front of a fire hydrant, on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk, bus stop or bike lane is all but guaranteed to lead to a ticket or a towed car. But a select population routinely gets away with these violations by displaying city-issued parking permits in their front windshields.

Some drivers who cheat the system don’t even have valid city permits. As documented on a near-daily basis by the Twitter account @placardabuse, which tracks instances of so-called “placard corruption” across the city, owners of illegally parked cars often get away with violations by displaying expired or fake permits, or by simply leaving a vest bearing the insignia of a city agency on the dashboard.

Though a city-issued placard does grant certain special privileges, it is not a license to park with impunity. Placards allow holders to park in loading zones or metered spots for free, but other areas, such as crosswalks, remain off-limits. Some placards are only valid in specific locations for a limited period of time.

But in practice, reform advocates say, enforcement is lacking and holders use permits (legitimately issued or otherwise) on a much wider basis, often without repercussion.

“People who use fake parking placards, or who use their legitimate placards to try to get away with parking where they are not supposed to, are in effect stealing city resources and unfairly taking advantage of the system at the expense of everyone else who follows the rules,” said Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the City Council’s transportation committee, at a recent hearing on five bills aimed at reining in placard abuse.

“Too often these individuals also pose a safety hazard, such as when they block fire hydrants and crosswalks, or interfere with pedestrian flow when they block sidewalks, not to mention the impact on congestion,” Rodriguez said. “And we all know that enforcement is too often lacking, with drivers who put items as simple, and as unofficial, as vests and hats on their dashboards sometimes being allowed to park wherever they want without fear of any consequences.”

Roughly 114,000 city employees enjoy special parking privileges conferred by city-issued placards, which are not administered by a single entity, but rather issued separately by several agencies. One bill would task the Department of Transportation with developing a comprehensive plan for the issuance and distribution of permits, including an assessment of the number of permits necessary.

The NYPD, which issues roughly 45,000 permits, pushed back against the bill at the June 12 hearing, arguing that the police department alone should determine how many placards its officers require.

Police officials also voiced concerns with legislation introduced by Council Member Margaret Chin under which individuals found to have misused permits more than three times in a year would immediately have their privileges revoked. The bill would also prohibit those who have had a permit revoked from receiving one the future, and permanently bar anyone found to have used a fraudulent placard even once.

“While the department embraces increased enforcement and accountability for those who abuse the parking permit system, the revocation of a permit is best left to the agencies’ internal disciplinary process,” said Oleg Chernyavsky, the NYPD’s director of legislative affairs.

Chernyavsky said that the NYPD does not currently have the capability to provide regular reports to the Council with basic information on instances of placard misuse, as would be required under a bill sponsored by Rodriguez.

In the last year, police have towed 89 vehicles for placard offenses. According to NYPD officials, vehicles found to have fraudulent placards are automatically towed.

“Every day, in every corner of our city, we see someone using an illegal placard,” Rodriguez said, adding, “To see only 89 should alert us that we need to address this issue seriously.”

“I don’t know that it’s necessarily a low number,” NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Pilecki responded. “All of our agents are encouraged to take enforcement against vehicles that are abusing their permits,” he said.

The NYPD launched a special enforcement unit in 2017 to combat placard abuse, and has issued 52,000 summonses for placard violations in the last twelve months, as compared to 29,400 in the prior year.

The @placardabuse Twitter account has contributed to increased attention on the issue by posting photos of permit misuse on a daily basis. Its tweets have even caught the eye of some Council members, and the account was referenced in the transportation committee’s report on the legislation. According to an individual who responded to a message to @placardabuse, the account is operated by a “loosely organized” online group that preserves its members’ anonymity. “Even among our core group we don’t even all know each other’s identities,” the person, who declined to share any identifying information, wrote in an email.

In spite of police testimony to the contrary, the @placardabuse representative believes “the NYPD has no intention of ending placard corruption practices.”

“The fact is that there are existing laws that cover the violations and crimes involved with placard corruption, but they are not enforced,” the individual wrote. “What would be most significant and is missing from the proposed legislation is a change to make enforcement of violations with placards non-discretionary. Currently, the NYPD has a lot of room to hide behind the fact the law does not compel officers to write tickets, but leaves it to their discretion.”

The problem of placard abuse is particularly acute in Lower Manhattan, where narrow streets around the civic center and police headquarters are often clogged with illegally parked vehicles.

“My district is overrun by placard parking,” said Chin, who represents the area in the City Council. “Residents and workers, they see this abuse every day,” Chin said. “We’ve got to do something.”

A 2014 study conducted by the Chinatown Partnership found over 700 vehicles parked with placards within the business improvement district, which borders the civic center. Wellington Chen, the group’s executive director, said Chinatown residents and business owners need relief from excessive placard parking and questioned the NYPD’s willingness to cut out abuse within its own ranks.

“A rookie will never give a sergeant a ticket,” he said.

Make text smaller Make text larger



Amazon lesson: No more closed doors

Civics and the City and Amazon — It happened on February 14th, but as Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney opined, “It was...
Read more »


The best football (the other kind) bar in New York
Smithfield Hall NYC is home for soccer-loving fans from around the world. Our football-fan writer spoke with co-owner Tom McCarthy
Read more »

Holes in plan to limit tower voids
A city proposal aims to close a key zoning loophole — but some reformers say further action is needed
Read more »

St. Mark’s Comics closing after 36 years
A staple of the East Village community will be shuttering its doors before construction begins on a planned office building
Read more »


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters


Local News
Drawing board
  • Feb 20, 2019
Local News
Holes in plan to limit tower voids
  • Feb 19, 2019
Local News
Drawing board
  • Feb 20, 2019