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The New Math of Parking Placards

The message was muddled, to say the least.

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio stood on the sidewalk in front of a school in the Bronx, warning school staff members and other municipal employees with city-issued parking placards that using them to park illegally would not be tolerated.

Announcing several new enforcement measures, he warned: “Before anyone thinks it’s a clever idea to misuse our placards, my advice is you better get to know where our impound lots are because you’re going to end up visiting them.”

But just two weeks earlier, Mr. de Blasio did something that critics say will lead to more placard abuse: He issued 50,000 new parking placards to teachers and other school employees.

Given that there are only about 10,000 on-street parking spots at schools reserved for employees with placards, traffic experts fear that holders of the new placards who do not find a spot will park illegally instead, relying on the placard to protect them from getting a ticket. That has historically been a pretty safe bet, thanks to a tradition of “professional courtesy” extended by traffic agents to other city employees.

“It’s only going to lead to abuse,” Samuel I. Schwartz, a former city traffic commissioner, said of the new placards. “And there is more abuse now than I have ever seen before.”

City-issued parking placards entitle the bearers to park in designated zones. The city says that, counting the 50,000 new placards, there are about 160,500 total in circulation. About 114,600 of the placards were given to city employees. As of March, the total number of full-time city employees, including those with full-time-equivalent status, was 317,944, suggesting that less than a third of all city employees have parking permits.

There were fewer placards in 2008, when former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, announced a major push to cut down on them. Several unions representing education department employees filed grievances, saying that the city could not unilaterally take away their parking privileges. But Randi Weingarten, then the president of the United Federation of Teachers, ultimately reached a deal with City Hall.

Under the deal, the number of education department permits was reduced to 11,000 from 63,000 — or as many parking spots as there were at schools, plus some extra permits for staff members who traveled to multiple schools. At each school, the principals and the teachers’ union chapter leaders were to determine how the placards would be distributed.

Ms. Weingarten praised the agreement, calling it “a rational way of dealing with this.” Mr. Bloomberg ultimately cut the overall number of placards in half.

But two other unions, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents principals and assistant principals, and Local 372 of District Council 37, which represents school aides, brought legal challenges. In both cases, the New York State Public Employment Relations Board ruled last year that the city’s taking away their parking permits without negotiations was impermissible and ordered that they be reinstated.

That is where the issue gets muddy. The principals’ union says the board’s decisions did not oblige the city to give parking permits to teachers, too. (There are 75,000 teachers, compared with about 6,000 administrators and 19,000 members of Local 372 working in schools.)

“They could have left it where it was — the agreement they had with the teachers — and just given us our permits,” Ernest Logan, the president of the principals’ union, said this week, adding, “I don’t know why they went and did this the way they did.”

But the city and the teachers’ union say that the board’s rulings meant that the 2008 deal was no longer tenable. As a result, they say, the city had to reinstate parking placards for teachers, too. The compromise, the city said, is that the new placards are more limited and harder to misuse, because they say the name of a specific school and are to be used only in that school’s parking spots. Also, employees must fill in their license plate numbers, so they cannot share the permits with family members.

Nonetheless, the move drew scorn. Some critics called it an election-year giveaway to the teachers’ union, which has endorsed Mr. de Blasio’s re-election bid. Others said that, by encouraging school employees to drive, giving out new placards went against Mr. de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” plan to reduce traffic deaths.

“The more driving, the more likelihood we’ll have crashes,” Mr. Schwartz said. “The more driving near schools, the more likely we’ll have children hit by cars.”

On Wednesday Mr. de Blasio seemed to want to hit the reset button. Calling misuse of parking placards “an insult to the people of New York City,” he announced the formation of a new Placard Fraud Enforcement Unit in the police department, the hiring of a hundred new traffic enforcement agents, and the creation of a new office within the city education department dedicated to parking placards, which would receive complaints and take disciplinary action against staff members for placard misuse.

The sight of vehicles with city-issued placards, or fake placards, parked illegally — in no-standing zones, in bus lanes, in front of fire hydrants — is a daily experience for many New Yorkers. The frustration has fueled a Twitter account, @placardabuse, which posts dozens of pictures a day. On May 12, the account posted a video of a traffic enforcement agent declining to issue a summons for a car with a police department placard and an illegal license plate cover.

At the news conference on Wednesday, Mr. de Blasio said he had been “troubled to hear about this website that showed footage of enforcement agents not doing their job,” seemingly referring to the Twitter account.

In fact, though, he would not have had to look far to find an example of a city employee flouting parking regulations. Soon after the mayor’s event ended, Matthew Chayes, a reporter for Newsday, posted on Twitter a picture of a silver sedan:

“Around corner from @NYCMayor’s parking crackdown event: @NYCSchools guidance counselor puts her ID in windshield in “NO STANDING ZONE”

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