By Julie Shapiro
Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised relief last week to residents who are tired of seeing government cars parked illegally. The cars, sporting a mélange of real and fake parking permits, which city workers are only supposed to use on official business, regularly sprawl in bus stops and beside fire hydrants. No one knows how many permits there are legal or otherwise because so many agencies can issue them.
Bloomberg’s plan calls for the city to count all the permits and requires each city agency to reduce its count by 20 percent. Currently, a range of agencies, from the Department of Education to the Office of Emergency Management, can issue their own permits at will. But starting March 1, the only agencies to issue the permits will be the New York Police Department and the Department of Transportation.
To better enforce permit-parking regulations, the N.Y.P.D. will create a special unit that will focus on preventing permit abuse. The plan will not affect state and federal agencies that issue placards.
Illegal permit parking is at its worst in Chinatown and near City Hall, so those areas will be the first to see a positive impact from the mayor’s plan, said Wiley Norvell, communications director at Transportation Alternatives.
“We like what we see,” Norvell said of Bloomberg’s plan. “This promises to be more sweeping than everything we’ve seen before.”
Norvell was most pleased by the N.Y.P.D.’s promise to crack down on permit abusers.
“It all comes down to enforcement,” he said. “If the police start enforcing the law, we’re going to see a huge change on our streets.”
The Straphangers Campaign released a statement approving of the mayor’s plan, anticipating that it will reduce traffic and promote public transportation. The campaign suggested that the city release the number of permits each agency is allowed to have.
A Transportation Alternatives study estimated that there are more than 150,000 permits the city puts the estimate closer to 70,000 but “Nobody knows how many are out there,” Norvell said. “The fact that the city will finally take an inventory is a really big deal.” The Transportation Alternatives study also found that 77 percent of permit holders abuse their privileges.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation’s $400,000 study on parking problems, which was announced in 2006 and was supposed to be released this fall, still hasn’t been released, and some doubt that it will ever go public.
“It must be so damaging it’s not being released,” said Jan Lee, a Chinatown small business owner and permit parking activist. Since taxpayer dollars funded the study, the city owes it to the public to release the results, Lee said. He especially wants to see the results before there is more discussion of a congestion-pricing plan, which he vehemently opposes.
D.O.T. representatives did not comment for this article. Ted Timbers, a D.O.T. spokesperson, said last month that the agency was still collecting and analyzing data.
While Lee said the mayor’s plan sounds good on the surface, he is skeptical that the new enforcement unit will make a dent in abuses, since the police will still be ticketing their own.
“Obviously, the system going on now doesn’t work, which is the city policing itself,” Lee said. “What branch of the Police Department is going to tattle on the Police Department?”
The solution, Lee said, is to put citizens on the enforcement boards. “If there is no citizenry on there, we’re in the same place we were in before,” he said.
To support his skepticism, Lee pointed to the irate comments on the N.Y.P.D. Rants blog.
One poster, LIVEAT10, wrote that he regularly parks in crosswalks or no-standing zones, even when he’s at a bar with his friends.
“Some jobs have perks,” LIVEAT10 wrote. “Wall street people get free tickets to hockey games. Cops get free parking. Wall street types make 1mill a year. Fireman get free parking.”
Another poster decried the bureaucracy the plan would create, which could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
In a profanity-laced post, Dept of Chaos wrote that administrators “want to take away all our powers. I hope this city burns to the ground.”
Geoff Lee, Jan’s brother, said the reaction does not bode well for future enforcement. “It’s still the fox guarding the henhouse,” Geoff said. “How has that worked? What is the track record when that’s happened?”
Geoff Lee crafted resolutions that unanimously passed Community Boards 2 and 3, advocating permanent signs in Chinatown declaring it a no-permit zone. The official D.O.T. maps show that much of Lower Manhattan is a no-permit zone, but without signs, the zone is little more than a well-kept secret. Geoff sees this effort by Bloomberg as an attempt to counteract bad press by “cleaning house.” Unless the city posts signs, he said, little would come of the plan.
Norvell, of Transportation Alternatives, also hopes to see permanent signage and he additionally wants to limit permit parking to places not easily accessible by public transportation. City Hall, for example, “is a very transit-rich place to work,” Norvell said. “There’s no excuse to park in front.”