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Five Minutes of Grace: City Council Puts a Lid on Bloomberg’s Parking Piggy Bank

November 17, 2009

The soon to be third term Mayor Bloomberg (who unsuccessfully ran as the GOP candidate in Brooklyn but won citywide by a razor-thin margin) must be crestfallen over the City Council’s recent parking fairness doctrine. Here’s the story:

The City Council overwhelmingly approved a bill on Monday that would provide a five-minute grace period to drivers who are late to feed a meter or move their cars on street-cleaning days, setting the stage for a showdown with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who vowed to veto the legislation.

Despite Mr. Bloomberg’s criticism of the measure, which he said was misguided and would lead to chaos, the Council approved it by 47 to 2, a vote well in excess of the two-thirds support needed to override a veto.

Residents have long complained about what they say are overzealous traffic agents who are too eager to write up tickets without offering any opportunity for understanding. Many have come to perceive the agents’ actions as a ploy to raise revenue at a time when the city is short of money.

In the months leading up to the mayoral election this month, the issue came to symbolize what opponents of Mr. Bloomberg called a disconnect between the mayor, a multibillionaire, and average New Yorkers, who believed they were being nickel-and-dimed at a time of financial worries.

“I don’t think he cares, because it doesn’t matter to him,” said Roberto Forbes, 59, a delivery van driver from Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

In expressing their support for the bill, several Council members cited Mr. Bloomberg’s small margin of victory as a signal that many New Yorkers were angry about his performance. “The mayor should be reminded that his election was not a victory, a landslide, a win or a mandate, but a call from average New Yorkers for relief,” said Letitia James, a Council member from Brooklyn.

The two Council members who opposed the bill were Daniel R. Garodnick of Manhattan and Tony Avella of Queens, who waged a failed bid to be the Democratic mayoral candidate and is leaving the Council at the end of the year. (Councilwoman Maria Baez of the Bronx was absent.)

At a hearing of the Council’s transportation committee earlier on Monday, Mr. Garodnick justified his opposition by saying, “You cannot legislate the issue of good judgment, common sense and grace.”

The five-minute period would apply to Muni Meters, which control parking spaces and issue a receipt, and alternate-side parking rules, which require drivers to move their cars for street cleaning, usually once or twice a week, for up to three hours. It would not apply to coin-operated single-space meters, because it would be virtually impossible to tell when they expired.

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, also opposed the grace period, saying it would increase illegal parking and make it impossible for traffic agents to do their jobs. “This is irresponsible pandering that will lead to more arguments at the curbside,” he said.

The Council passed three other parking-related measures on Monday, including one that would relax placard rules for clergy members. The others would require notice of changes to meter rates and parking rules.

The bill establishing a grace period was the Council’s way of injecting fairness into parking enforcement, said Councilman Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who sponsored the legislation.

Citing figures from an analysis published by The New York Times last November, Mr. Felder said about 280,000 tickets were issued in fiscal 2008 for alternate-side parking violations within five minutes of the required time, which corresponds to about one-quarter of all parking tickets issued in the city that year. “Taxpayers in the city are tired of being hounded,” Mr. Felder said.

The Bloomberg administration denies any suggestion that traffic enforcement has been used to raise money. Still, traffic summonses have been a reliable source of revenue, yielding $560 million in fiscal 2009 and $590 million in fiscal 2008. Most traffic tickets cost more than $100.

Mr. Bloomberg, though, said a grace period would only breed confusion in a system that is already ripe for confrontation. “Whose watch are you going to use?” he asked.

“This has to do with making everybody feel good, but it’s in fact creating chaos for the traffic agents,” the mayor added.

The city is providing sensitivity training to all of its 2,795 traffic agents to make sure they treat drivers with professionalism. But, Mr. Bloomberg said, “if you park your car illegally, chances are you are going to get a ticket, and you’ll never be satisfied with the sensitivity.”

One Comment
  1. Mike's Not Right permalink
    November 18, 2009 3:32 pm

    Let’s see if he vetoes this one, that Bloomy.

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