Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bogus parking placard allows advocacy group to park all over New York City without a single ticket

The Daily News has discovered the greatest parking deal in the city - day-long free spots on some of the Big Apple's busiest streets.

All it takes is Photoshop, a color printer and a bit of poster board to crank out a real-looking government placard to place in your dashboard - and nary a ticket will come your way.

The News proved it yesterday while working with the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which made a bogus placard from the fictional "New York State Numismatic Agency" - aka the agency of coin collection.

The placard was slapped with the seal of the Republic of Bulgaria and laminated to give it extra gravitas.

Then we popped it on the dashboard of a rented 2011 Dodge Caliber and took it on a tour of some of the city's most parking-starved neighborhoods, pulling in for more than seven hours in illegal spaces near City Hall, Brooklyn's Borough Hall and in the heart of Times Square.

We put no money in meters, circled no blocks in search of elusive legal spaces - and drove off without a ticket.

"There is a culture of rampant abuse and no respect for the rules and regulations that are on the books," said Transportation Alternatives' Noah Budnick.

A study the group released in April estimated that as many as 25,000 fraudulent permits are on the streets - but the total could be higher, Budnick said.

"It might as well be an infinite number given what you see put on dashboards that people try to pass off as parking permits," Budnick said.

Our Numismatic Agency permit made its debut at 8 a.m., spending 2-1/2 hours in a spot directly across Broadway from City Hall in space marked "no standing any time except authorized vehicles."

It then spent three hours in a permit-only spot near Cadman Plaza in downtown Brooklyn - a few feet in front of a fire hydrant - then landed for more than two hours in a "no standing anytime" space in traffic-clogged Times Square at 46th St. and Broadway.

During the course of seven hours, more than 25 cops or traffic agents passed by our illegally parked vehicle.

The vast majority of officers strolled by without much more than a passing glance at the car - or the placard.

So much for vigilance

Just two cops in Times Square - where a would-be terrorist last year parked a bomb-filled SUV in the center of the tourist mecca - stopped to actually read the placard.

They peered inside the car - but didn't seem to notice the placard was as fake as a $10 Gucci purse.

"It's completely frustrating that there are so many bogus placards on the street, and there is no easy and uniform way of dealing with them," said City Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan).

He has proposed a bill - set for a hearing Wednesday - that would require the city to put bar codes on placards so enforcement agents could use a scanner to quickly learn if a placard is legit.

Administration officials have not taken a position on the bill, but a spokesman for the NYPD denied his crews don't enforce the law.

"Since the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau special initiative against bogus and improper use of placards began in 2008, it has issued 29,885 summonses and towed 6,484 vehicles.

"Sorry we missed yours," said top NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

"IAB would have happily made it tow No. 6,485."

City Officials raised their hands in surrender Wednesday and admitted there's not much they can do about the thousands of fake parking placards on dashboards all over the city.

Yet they still oppose a City Council solution to the problem.

"There are no limits to what someone with a good photocopy machine can fake," said Susan Petito, the NYPD's assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs.

Petito addressed a City Council committee on the same day the Daily News and the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives proved how easy it is to park illegally for hours with a bogus placard.

The News found great spots - for free - using a placard from the fictional "New York Numismatic State Agency."

City Councilman Daniel Garodnick wants to crack down on the rampant abuse by putting bar codes on placards that agents would scan to see if they're legit.

Petito trashed that proposal as too expensive - and too complicated.

Her opposition angered Council members. "Throwing up your hands about this problem is not constructive, and their testimony today was not that helpful," Garodnick (D-Manhattan) said.

New Yorkers who follow the law are left to fume that their neighbors are getting away with scams.

Complaints about placard scams poured into The News yesterday.

Sherri Hodes, 62, called to say her midtown street is clogged with postal workers using bogus placards that appear to have come from their union.

"It's like we're the only ones that care," said Hodes, whose complaints to the post office and the NYPD have fallen on deaf ears. "No one wants to take any action and deal with this problem."

Hodes showed The News six cars on W. 58th St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves. that all had placards that said "National Association of Letter Carriers - U.S. Post Office."

Postal Service spokeswoman Darleen Reid said the placards - on private vehicles - are not authorized and said the agency has informed workers the permits are illegal.

Larry Cirelli, the business agent for the New York region of the letter carriers association, said his office has nothing to do with the bogus placards.

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