Parking in the city is going to get a lot less stressful after the City Council passed a series of bills backed by Queens councilmembers that could drastically change parking regulations.
One bill, which was sponsored by Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), allows drivers to have parking tickets electronically cancelled if they purchase parking time from a meter within five minutes of receiving a ticket. Previously, a ticket received under those circumstances would have to be argued in court.
“This legislation is about not having to be afraid of getting a ticket for obeying the law,” Gennaro said. “These are law-abiding citizens who will benefit from this bill.
“This is something that should have been addressed when the muni-meter program was instituted, but it wasn’t,” he said. “Now, it has been addressed in a way that helps drivers.”
Another bill, which was sponsored by Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), would expand the amount of time a driver has before being charged late fees for an unpaid ticket. Previously, late fees would go into effect 30 days after receiving the ticket, even if the recipient is arguing the ticket in court. Now, late fees go into effect 30 days after any appeal action is determined. The provision is intended to protect drivers in case they decide to fight a ticket.
“This bill is based on an American concept called ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ The current way that these fees are charged is unfair to citizens, especially those who are appealing their cases,” Sanders said.
This particular bill comes at the right time for some city drivers: the Department of Finance is planning to end a program that allows drivers to settle tickets for a reduced fee if they promise not to challenge the ticket in court.
A spokesperson for the DOF said that the program was being closed down because “the City cannot afford to keep a costly program that benefits only those who park illegally at the expense of other vital services.”
Sanders, who opposes the DOF’s actions on this matter, said that “plea bargains work in other parts of our legal system, and they’ve worked here for a while. Removing this program would slow down the process of government, and it wouldn’t be cost effective.”
The third bill bans the Department of Sanitation from placing stickers on cars that are suspected of violating alternate side rules. The stickers are normally placed on the driver’s side window of offending cars.
In a statement issued to the press, Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) said that the sticker program “serves no purpose other than to punish motorists for an offense for which they have yet to be convicted.”
The three bills have received a mixed reaction from Mayor Bloomberg. Mark LaVorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, said that while the mayor did support Sanders’ bill, he was likely to veto Gennaro’s bill.
LaVorgna also said that the mayor was reviewing the effectiveness of ending the alternate side sticker program, saying that there are some concerns about what would happen if the program stopped.
“If people don’t move their cars in accordance with alternate side rules, streets can’t get cleaned,” LaVorgna said. “The sticker program has been around since the 1980s, and our numbers show that it has been effective.”
Other members of the City Council felt differently.
“There’s no reason to inconvenience drivers and humiliate them over an offense that they have not been found guilty of,” Sanders said. “The job of government isn’t to humiliate its citizens, but to work together and create a harmonious society.”
Gennaro agreed, saying “drivers who violate alternate-side rules are punished with a ticket. The stickers serve no purpose but to deface people’s cars. It’s a waste of the Sanitation Department’s resources.”
Both Sanders and Gennaro expressed regret about the mayor’s opposition to the proposed parking regulations. “The mayor should follow the path of common sense. I urge him to reconsider his position on this matter,” Sanders said.
Gennaro also urged Bloomberg to rethink his position, adding that he felt that the mayor was a reasonable man who “is being poorly served by the people who advise him.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who sits on the council’s Transportation Committee, said “These are common sense approaches to these problems that make parking easier and eliminate unnecessary punitive processes. I sincerely hope that the mayor will come around on this issue and sign these bills into law.”
All three bills passed a council vote by a margin of 47-0. When asked about the possibility of overriding a mayoral veto, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) said that if enough Council members supported the measures that an override was likely.