Touting the success of its pilot car-booting program, the city announced last week that it will go citywide by the end of July.
The pilot program, which began in Brooklyn last June, has resulted in 4,200 cars booted and the collection of $55 million in fees and fines, according to New York Department of Finance Commissioner David Frankel.
"Our goal is to recoup the debt that's owed the city, and booting has proven that motorists don't have to be needlessly inconvenienced in order to pay what they owe and get back on the road," he said.
Prior to implementation of the booting program, if vehicle owners exceeded the "scofflaw" threshold of $350 in parking judgment debt — including parking, red light camera or bus lane violation tickets — their car was towed. Drivers had to spend the better part of their day traveling to a City Marshal's Office or a Department of Finance Business Center to pay their debt, then tracking their car to a tow pound — most of which are inaccessible to mass transit and open only during business hours. Instead, under the booting program, the car is not moved, the motorist can call a 24/7 phone number and speak to a live person to settle their debt and fees. The boot is unlocked by entering a code given to the driver after the fees are paid. The driver then has to return the boot to the city.
The whole process from picking up the phone to releasing the boot takes about nine minutes, according to the Commissioner, compared to the many hours it takes to redeem a towed vehicle.
"Booting enables motorists to pay their debts and get their car back on the road much quicker than under the towing program," said Frankel.
New York City Marshals are in favor of the new boot program.
"For the last year, the Sheriff's office has been operating a booting pilot program in certain parts of the city," said City Marshal Association spokesperson Michael Woloz. "Now that the city is moving toward a more permanent program, the Sheriff's office and the Department of Finance have been working closely with New York City Marshals on transitioning their operations from a towing program to a "boot first" program."
He added: "The expansion of the program and the marshals' participation will result in a higher volume of booting in the city where the bright yellow boots will become a more prevalent fixture on city streets — at least until the vehicle owner's fines are paid or the vehicle is towed. This is a change for New York and we are ready for the change. We are hoping to be integrated into the program shortly."
The American Automobile Association of New York supports the program.
"The booting program will make it easier for the unfortunate scofflaw to regain use of their vehicle and should save the city the expense of towing and storing vehicles for those who pay up quickly. We do worry about booted vehicles blocking street cleaners, leading to dirtier streets, and, in the process, racking up even more violations," said Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for the AAA of New York.
However, some are not so sure about the program.
"While I have concerns with the Booting Program, such as whether it's being implemented as a revenue raising measure or to facilitate actual crackdowns on violators, I believe we will have to keep an eye on the program so that it does not wrongly negatively impact law abiding residents," said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) also had some reservations.
"As technology evolves, we are able to ease many of the problems that have always plagued us, including penalties and punishments for scofflaws," said Goldfeder. "This new system will allow motorists to instantly pay the fine, remove the boot and go about their business. There are still flaws with the program that must be addressed and I will work with the city to ensure that it runs as smoothly as possible."
A car can still be towed for many traffic violations, including blocking a fire hydrant. The car can still be towed if the boot is not removed within 48 hours with additional penalities.
The cost for a boot is expensive. In addition to the cost of the tickets, there's a $180 boot fee, a $70 Sheriff execution fee and a 5 percent surcharge on the total bill, plus a fee if the boot is not returned on time.