Analyst Uses NYPD's Open Data To Uncover Millions Of Dollars Of Bogus Parking Tickets

from the coming-soon:-NYC-says-it-can-afford-any-more-transparency dept

The following story — sent in by an anonymous Techdirt reader — shows the power of opening up government data for examination by citizens… as well as the reason many government agencies may be reluctant to do so.

Ben Wellington, a research analyst who has used New York City’s open data to push for policy changes, runs the I Quant NY blog. Looking through the city’s parking ticket data, he found some addresses were listed on an extremely high number of tickets for blocking pedestrian ramps.

What I found when I dove into the data surprised me. To start, I found the top address where this ticket were given: in front of 575 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, where over $48,000 in parking fines were issued in the last 2.5 years.

Now, before anyone shouts that the people blocking pedestrian ramps got exactly what they deserved, Wellington points out that sidewalk cutouts are not automatic no-parking zones. Only certain ones are.

As of late 2008, in NYC you can park in front of a sidewalk pedestrian ramp, as long as it’s not connected to a crosswalk. It’s all written up in the NYC Traffic Rules, and for more detail, take a look at this article. The local legislation making these parking spots legal was proposed by Council Member Gentile, and adopted by the Department of Transportation before it ever made it for a vote.

But it’s the legal parking spots that seem to be receiving the most traffic enforcement attention by NYPD officers. The top four spots on the list of ticketed addresses were all legal. So were others Wellington checked. In fact, legal parking spaces appeared to be a rather lucrative cash generator for the city.

I then selected 30 random spots that had received 5 or more tickets over the time period, and based on Google Maps found that all of them appeared to be legal parking spots! (Randomly selecting spots with a single ticket in the database showed some illegal spots as well, so I chose 5 as a conservative cutoff.)

It all adds up to nearly 2,000 tickets and $1.7 million a year in bogus parking tickets. Wellington alerted the city and the NYPD. Unexpectedly, the NYPD responded and promised to fix the problem.

[T]he majority of summonses written for this code violation were written by police officers. As a result, the department sent a training message to all officers clarifying the rule change and has communicated to commanders of precincts with the highest number of summonses, informing them of the issues within their command.

Thanks to this analysis and the availability of this open data, the department is also taking steps to digitally monitor these types of summonses to ensure that they are being issued correctly.

As Wellington notes, this is the power of open data. If the government puts more eyes on its problems, it can start fixing them sooner. Transparency is a great thing. New York City suddenly has more legal parking spaces. Well, it’s had them for six years but people parking legally were still getting ticketed. Wellington points out the NYPD should be congratulated for not only acknowledging the mistake, but responding positively. Other agencies Wellington has worked with have been far more reluctant to accept responsibility, much less act quickly to correct errors.

The downside is that someone’s going to take a look at budget sheets and wonder how this $1.7 annual “shortfall” is going to be offset. And when that happens, transparency and accountability are often the first items placed on the chopping block. Someone’s going to want to examine the cost of the city’s commitment to open data and weigh that against efforts like Wellington’s, which “take money” out of the city’s pockets. Hopefully, New York City won’t roll back its transparency commitment and will instead view things like these as a necessary part of the accountability equation.

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Comments on “Analyst Uses NYPD's Open Data To Uncover Millions Of Dollars Of Bogus Parking Tickets”

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Whatever (profile) says:

Actually, this is a perfect example of a local politicians failing very badly at their jobs. A pedestrian cut out like that, no matter what the local authorities say, is an illegal parking spot by state law, which over rides. So the local politicians may be saying “it’s okay, park here” but the police are in fact correctly issuing tickets.

Local law cannot generally override the state (or federal) law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The fact that the NYC police said they’d fix the issue seems to indicate, regardless of your understanding of the law, that the city doesn’t think the cops should enforce the state law over the city policy.

So maybe this is like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado not choosing to enforce federal marijuana laws.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You are correct. It doesn’t make it any more legal, it just makes it a “look the other way” offense.

The issue is claiming these are “bogus” parking tickets. By the motor vehicle laws, they are not bogus. The city perhaps doesn’t want the police to issue them, but they are not “bogus”. That’s hyperbole, plain and simple – typical of Techdirt to over react and slant the story to be anti-authority.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Gotta be impressed. It’s the first time one of Whatever’s comments has expressed a disagreement with authority, and the disagreement is with the fact that authority has agreed to correct a mistake it’s made.

Honestly, wow. Think about the kind of metaphysical insight it takes to accept that the only way in which police aren’t perfect is that they occasionally admit to imperfection.

jaack65 (profile) says:

Re: NYC Exemption to State Law

I am a handicap individual, my handicap parking placard is not valid in NYC for parking laws! To get a NYC handicap parking placard, NYC DOT mandates the individual be examined by an NYC-DOT medical doctor somewhere in Brooklyn to determine if you are disabled enough for NYC parking permit which is valid only in the 5 boroughs of NYC ! The City has an enormous power in the state house to be able to bypass what are many parts of state authority. Taxing power, building codes, and parking laws are few to just get started. So cutting a curb could be done by any person, but does not make it a “legal” cut. Hopefully this data will help drivers appeal their summons and get back THEIR money which was illegally taken from drivers. But as we all know New York’s finest will get you in the end. Because in NYC there are 2 kind of people, there are those in that Blue uniform who can do no wrong, and the rest of us, perps without uncharged yet. There are no citizens with rights.

jaack65 (profile) says:

Re: Local Law Trump State Law? In NYC Not Always

NYC has special deal with Albany on laws. They have a great leeway in overriding State law. Big example, handicap parking permit issued by STATE DMV is no good in NYC! You must get a special permit from NYC DOT & examined by their doctors before a permit is issued. NYC needs Albany approval to raise money & increase taxes. That is the ONLY thing that I know of where NYC isn’t autonomous legally.

jaack65 (profile) says:

Re: Local Law Trump State Law? In NYC Not Always

NYC fine Parking in front of a pedestrian ramp $165!
NYC has special deal with Albany on laws. They have a great leeway in overriding State law. Big example, handicap parking permit issued by STATE DMV is no good in NYC! You must get a special permit from NYC DOT & examined by their doctors before a permit is issued. NYC needs Albany approval to raise money & increase taxes. That is the ONLY thing that I know of where NYC isn’t autonomous legally.
The cops KNOW the parking laws and think that anyone who fights the ticket will be adjourned to death. The officer will claim he cant show in court because of work, judges, prosecutors cooperate to keep money from ticket, no matter what the law says.
Each fine amount includes a $15 New York State Criminal Justice surcharge.
These tickets hit the poor hardest since the fines are so high for minor infractions. $65 is the lowest traffic fine amount! General No Parking: No parking where parking is not allowed by sign, street marking or traffic control device. $65.00
Parking at a broken or missing meter for longer than the maximum time permitted. $65
“Feeding Meter” — parking in a metered space for a consecutive period of time longer than allowed, whether or not an additional coin or coins are deposited or another method of payment is used. $65
Expired Meter — parking in a metered space where the meter works and the time has ended. $65

jaack65 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:Tickets are Revenue Sources

One item a NYC police precinct commander is measured on is ticket revenue. How much has that precinct contributed to reducing the ballooning budget gap? Otherwise, the property from confiscation from the “drug war” is another source but dangerous to officers. Citizens really have little recourse on fighting a ticket. Traffic court is stacked in favor of the officers and not interested in justice.

Jayson says:

NY may be bad but I'd say Toronto is far worse.

I LOVE to see an analyst do a job with Toronto’s parking ticket Nazis. They have an openly admitted aggressive quota and bonus structure for the ticket officers. One single mechanism to fight it meaning a day standing in a massive line just to talk to the justice. They’ve published officers taking in >$100k from issuing tickets.

I’ve personally saw a ticket issued to a car that got into a fender bender hooked up to a tow truck. He was walking chuckling mighty pleased with himself.

NY may have a high number of false tickets issued but I call out Toronto likely having a higher number of false tickets.

Anonymous Coward says:

city’s commitment to open data


it’s the city’s commitment to not trick and cheat its denizens (at least the ones that don’t know the right people). . this is an issue all over the nation and probably most other nations. . the enemy of a government is its people and the enemy of people . . . well, you know.

Skeeter says:

Traffic Income

Traffic tickets in urban areas have always been, and will always be ‘deep profit pools’ for municipalities. A few friends and I took this to several local city council meetings last year. We are on a ‘perimeter city road’, where every street-racer comes most weekends to burn through thousands of dollars to ‘tear up the streets’. I have only seen one marked police car come down the road after sunset on Thursday, Friday or Saturday night in the past 6 months. I HAVE, however, seen SEVERAL local cops in their modified personal muscle cars out there ‘ripping it’ with the other hooligans. We pointed out at the city council, that if they would simply send random patrols on weekends after dark down this road, they could double their income for the city, but there has been no action to date on this. Meanwhile, drive down the city streets any mid-day, and you’ll see at least one car pulled over getting a ticket, most often with out-of-state tags. Why? Easy income, and no court rebuttal. Patrolling our street means that racers might shoot or try to outrun them. It’s NOT about enforcing the law, it’s about cheap easy income from well-off tourists. Plain, and very simple. I figure the first 7-year old that gets ran over by a $100k modified racecar, there will be faux outrage and a 6-week super-enforcement period, though. Sadly, it will take a child’s death to make anything happen. Outcry is not enough.

John85851 (profile) says:

Parking in beach towns

This a little off-topic, but:
I still remember when I went to a beach town for Senior Week after high school. The parking rates were something like $5 an hour at a lot or 25 cents an hour a meter, but with a 2-hour maximum.
And if the meter expired, you could get a ticket that might cost $25. The ticket was a no-points, no-reporting to insurance type of ticket, so it didn’t go on your record if you paid it.

The catch? If you stayed all day, it was cheaper to park illegally and pay the ticket than to park in the paid lots!

Chuck says:

Fuzzy Logic

The problem with this, with all of this, is that we have a system that is SO BROKEN that cities think they should be able to “count on” the money generated by parking fines in the first place.

Think about that for a second. They are building money generated from their citizens BREAKING THE LAW into their budget.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t take the money and run. I’m just saying it’s flat out insane that your cities budget requires that a certain minimum number of your citizens violate the law in order for the city to balance its budget.

I mean, while we’re at it, why not fine people $10,000 for each murder they commit and put THAT in your official budget to? Same thing, guys. Same damn thing.

Parking ticket money should be used as bonus money. It should never be part of any official budget. When you hit the end of the fiscal year and have a cool pet project like a skate park or something that you couldn’t afford to fund previously, THAT’S where the extra, bonus, totally-not-in-the-budget parking ticket money should be spent.

Or we can keep running under the wholly depressing assumption that 2,000+ people will break the law like clockwork, and use the money to continue to fund vital things like schools and hospitals, so that when 2,000 fewer people do so, we run a budget deficit. Great plan, guys.

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