“If you are going to have your hand in people’s pockets, do it with a smile”, said Jacques Jiha, the NYC Department of Finance Commissioner back in 2015 when the city hired a taxpayer advocate. Now, the Department of Finance (DOF), the city’s tax collector, wants to put a kinder, friendlier face on its Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) with the appointment of a Parking Summons Advocateto “identify systemic issues with the city’s parking summonses practices”. While we welcome the appointment, it’s hard to believe that an agency whose mission, according to Commissioner Jiha, is to “collect the right amount of taxes: not one penny more, and not one penny less”is truly committed to the fair administration of justice. Really. Would you want the Internal Revenue Service to calculate your taxes? That said, based on our decades of experience with the PVB here are some suggestions for Jean Wesh, the new advocate:
- PVB judges must be truly independent: In a real court, the sign above the judge’s head reads “In God We Trust”. At the PVB, above the judge’s head is the symbol of the NYC Department of Finance. Real judges answer to a higher authority. At the PVB, the judges answer to the DOF. Administrative Law Judges (ALJ’s) are licensed attorneys hired on a per diem basis earning about $300 per day. They have no job security or benefits. They serve at the pleasure of DOF management. If ALJ’s do not follow DOF management’s “policies” or guidelines on decisions, their hours could be cut, or they could be terminated. This system is unfair to judges and to respondents and is contrary to city rules requiring that ALJ’s avoid the “appearance of impropriety” in all their activities.
- End strict enforcement of the unfair marking requirements: State and federal rules require that commercial vehicles be marked with the company’s name and DOT number and that these markings be simply “legible”. NYC requires a company’s full name and address to be permanently affixed to the vehicle in 3” lettering. Failure to comply to the letter of the law may lead to a $115 ticket for having an “unaltered commercial vehicle”. However, this rule isn’t enforced fairly at hearings. Judges often give passes for certain larger firms when they feel the company logo and name is widely recognized.
- Ticket stacking must end: Trucks can be legally parked in a truck loading zone but, if they’re ticketed for being improperly marked, the vehicle is no longer deemed a truck and is given another ticket for being illegally parked in a truck zone. Other ticket stacking issues include double parking at fire hydrants or double parking with the lift gate down.
- End strict enforcement of lift gate violations: Lowering a lift gate is an integral part of making a delivery for many firms. Often personnel are actively loading or unloading the vehicle when ticketed. In many instances, the ticket agent visits the front of the vehicle (to scan the registration and write the ticket) and doesn’t see the activity to the side of the vehicle or to the rear. There are many instances where truckers leave the gates down while making a delivery so that another vehicle doesn’t park too close and prevent the gate from being brought down again. Perhaps a time limit on such activities would help.
- Leased vehicles: Lessees need to be able to see all the open tickets issued against their plates, so they can take care of them and prepare timely defenses and avoid late fees. While tracking tickets on the city’s website (NYCSERV), lessees can’t see all the plates for vehicles they lease. Under the city’s Rental Program, notices must first go to the lessor who then notifies the city as to the name of the lessee. Then the city sends notices of the tickets to the lessee… but not until after adding a $10 late penalty to the ticket. That penalty should be removed.
- Give judge’s more discretion: If the circumstances warrant, ALJ’s should be permitted to take off late penalties, reopen judgment tickets, or dismiss tickets “in the interest of justice”.
- Hearing conduct: Department of Finance must end the unjust rules at its Commercial Adjudication Unit. There is no reason for tickets to be heard in the order that electronic logs were created. ALJ’s should be permitted to grant adjournments. Sometimes respondents or their representatives need extra time to get documents for their client’s defense.
- Difficult delivery in bike lanes: There are many situations which require the truck to be as close to the customer as possible. Fuel oil deliveries, armored cars or deliveries of other valuables, and deliveries of bulky construction materials cannot be made from a block or two away. These deliveries must be given discretion to stand in a bike lane.
- Stipulated fine program: By participating in this program, companies waive their right to challenge parking tickets and agree to pay a pre-set, reduced fine amount for most offenses. In theory it was a win, win… The city was making money without the companies bringing each ticket to a hearing and companies did not have to prepare defenses, pay representatives and go to a hearing for each ticket. Yet the city is now looking to cut the savings to program participants as a backdoor for congestion pricing. Defenses that are dismissible with proof at a live hearing, like double parking, will be charged in the revised stipulated fine program. This is ridiculous! The DOF should not be in the traffic flow business. They should be promoting commerce not impeding it. Besides, there so many other causes of congestion: construction, increased for-hire vehicles, removal of traffic lanes and parking spaces. By raising the stipulated fine program rates, more truckers will opt out of the program and opt in for live hearings instead, further clogging the backed up ALJ’s.
Chief among them is double parking, which is completely legal for trucks to do outside of midtown Manhattan. Yet, since the city is projecting a dip of about $25 million in parking revenue (based on previous 3-yr average) they want to phase out the double-parking defense. They are expected to raise $17 million this year by the double-parking double-cross.
Trucks are the lifeblood that keep NYC working. Without trucks people would be homeless, hungry, and naked. Yet, the city views trucks as nothing more than an ATM. Look around! Stores are closing, restaurants are closing. These heavy-handed tactics are destroying commerce. Hey Commissioner Jiha, we aren’t smiling.