NYC: Don’t Ticket Me. I’m One of You.

A reporter’s survey of cars parked in Midtown and downtown Manhattan turned up a variety of ostensible permits. Some may have been valid; many were questionable. Corey Kilgannon/The New York Times

By COREY KILGANNON | NYT.com

A reporter’s survey of cars parked in Midtown and downtown Manhattan turned up a variety of ostensible permits. Some may have been valid; many were questionable. Corey Kilgannon/The New York Times

There was something official-looking about the gleaming GMC Sierra pickup truck that sat one recent weekday morning in a no-parking zone on Washington Square South in Greenwich Village.

Maybe it was the orange traffic cone placed on it, which bore the initials U.S.D.A., or the dozen stickers and patches for various police and military organizations. The windshield wiper held a handwritten sign, “Food Vendor.”

The truck belonged to Thiru Kumar, who runs a popular food vending cart nearby.

“Sometimes, if I have to leave the truck there temporarily, the ticket agent will see that it’s mine and give me a second to move it,” Mr. Kumar said while frantically trying to serve a line of customers.

Not that far away, in a no-parking zone on Houston Street, near Varick Street, a Dodge Grand Caravan had its own symbol of officialdom on the dashboard: an open wallet displaying a miniaturized version of a New York Police Department inspector’s badge, along with neatly printed words below it: “Inspector’s Brother.”

The van bore the name of an alarm system company. After a reporter started staring at it, a man came running over and said that it was his boss’s truck, and that the badge was not being used to avoid parking tickets.

“It used to work a long time ago, but not anymore,” said the man, who would not give his name.

A recently issued report, based on a canvassing of parked cars in New York City neighborhoods crowded with official vehicles, concluded that more than 40 percent of the cars displaying official government-issued parking placards were parked illegally. According to the report, issued by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, one in four of the placards on display were forged or otherwise invalid.

The group also tested enforcement by parking a car with a bogus parking placard bearing the name of a nonexistent city agency, the Citizen Protection Administration. During a six-hour period on a weekday in Manhattan, the car, parked illegally in various spots, was inspected by parking enforcement agents but never ticketed.

A reporter’s own survey of cars parked in Midtown and downtown Manhattan recently turned up a variety of creatively constructed permits. During a two-day search, dozens of illegally parked cars displayed dubious placards and strategies, but none of the vehicles had parking summonses on them.

Some cars bore expired permits, others had placards issued by obscure organizations and nongovernmental groups with no official parking privileges in the city. Other dashboards exhibited sly attempts to make the vehicles seem linked to government, law enforcement or kind of official business.

Some displayed a dazzling combination of permits. Consider a late-model silver Mercedes left in a no-parking zone on University Place near 11th Street. It had M.D. license plates, which are issued by New York State to physicians. It also had a large metal medallion — “New York Veteran Police Association Member” — attached to the rear bumper. On the dashboard, a mangled parking permit issued by the New York County Medical Society shared space with a small card from the National Police Defense Foundation certifying the bearer as a police surgeon.

Then there was the van of an air-conditioning company parked in a no-standing zone on Warren Street west of Church Street. It was decked out with a patch and parking plaque from the New York Fire Department and a parking permit from the defunct Board of Education.

A gray Subaru Forester parked in a no-standing zone on West 43rd Street near Eighth Avenue bore an expired New York State Police “Official Business” placard, complemented by a laminated card bearing the emblem of the Interstate Environmental Commission.

Then there are the permits that insinuate no official affiliation at all, but rather seem to appeal to a ticket agent’s sympathy for the working stiff. They are often handwritten notes, like the one displayed by a coffee vendor who routinely parks his Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicle close to his sidewalk cart on Fifth Avenue near 14th Street, in a parking metered zone. His cardboard sign in the windshield — “Good Morning. Coff Man. Thank You” — does not give him free parking, but it does often lead a ticket agent to give him a shouted warning to replenish the meter.

Some doormen seek the same leeway when parking for work. A car in a no-parking zone on West 67th Street near Columbus Avenue had a handwritten sign, “Doorman,” and gave the address of a residential building. It is also common to see orange safety vests on dashboards of cars near work sites, to indicate that the drivers are working nearby.

Car owners often try to exhibit dashboard items that suggest that the drivers have an affiliation with law enforcement officials.

This is known as the “secret handshake” strategy, said James Huntley, president of a union for parking agents in New York City. One code from the past, when parking agents were called meter maids, was to place a bag of M&M’s on the dashboard, he said.

“You get people putting Korans, Bibles, anything they think will work, in their windshield,” Mr. Huntley said. “We’ve had people say, ‘I shouldn’t get a ticket because I’m the bodyguard for Jay-Z.’ It doesn’t matter how much stuff you put in your windshield, you’ve still got to put money in the meter.”

Differentiating between valid and invalid parking permits is part of parking enforcement agent training and is reinforced in weekly meetings, Mr. Huntley said. Agents are instructed to consult with the police if they encounter a dubious placard. Violators can be ticketed, towed or, in some cases, arrested.

“Bottom line, if the agent thinks the placard is not legitimate, they’re writing a ticket,” Mr. Huntley said.

Often, car owners will simply leave a crude printout, like the sheet of paper reading “Emergency Service Vehicle” left in the dashboard of an elevator-repair company van parked in a no-standing zone on 52nd Street near Madison Avenue.

A Honda Ridgeline truck parked in a no-standing zone on West 52nd Street near Ninth Avenue bore the message “Doctor of Podiatric Medicine” on a slip of paper in the windshield. Nearby, a gray Honda had a slip of paper on its dashboard with the heading “Official New York State Prescription,” the kind a doctor would fill out for a pharmacist.

Down the block, near the Radio City Station Post Office, several cars were parked in Postal Service parking zones. They bore simple white pieces of paper bearing the name of the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Police union cards commonly appear on dashboards. For example, a Ford Explorer in a no-parking zone on Central Park West near 62nd Street displayed three different cards issued by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Associations for different police departments.

And on East 52nd Street, the dashboard of a Gray Mercedes parked east of Third Avenue displayed a poor computer printout of the New York Police Department insignia and the words “Retired MOS from 018 Pct.” M.O.S. is a police term for “member of the service.”

Members of the news media — or people purporting to be members — also try to gain parking privileges. On Park Row, an unoccupied car in a no-standing zone had a slip of paper on the dashboard that read “Covering news conference.”

The car behind it had a Police Department press parking placard that expired in 2008 — when the city stopped issuing them — along with a 2011 New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association card.

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/dont-ticket-me-im-one-of-you/