Brooklyn pilots citywide parking enforcement reboot

June 14, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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New pay-or-stay wheel clamps roll out a week from Monday

By Eli MacKinnon

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The city is hoping to have Brooklyn’s scofflaws quaking in their boots — specifically their state-of-the-art, passcode-protected, electromechanical “SmartBoots” — with its new parking enforcement plan.

Starting Monday, June 25, Brooklyn will be the lone pilot borough for a new wheel boot program, which will be implemented by a private company based in New Jersey called PayLock. 

Under the new program, vehicles with more than $350 in outstanding parking tickets will be outfitted with a tire lock that can be “self-released” with an access code that a violator will receive after squaring up with the city. Parking fines, as well as a group of additional fees that will be levied for the booting procedure, can be paid with credit or debit card by calling in to PayLock’s 24-hour call center, or in cash at one of the New York City Department of Finance’s payment centers. 

But Brooklynites who want to pay for their release code in cash during the three- to six-month pilot run of the program will have to head to another borough, because “the payment center in Brooklyn is temporarily closed for renovations,” according to Samara Karasyk, assistant commissioner of external affairs at the Department of Finance. “We’re hoping it will be open by the end of the year,” she said, emphasizing the word “hoping.”

If everything goes according to plan in Brooklyn, the Department of Finance will next introduce the $500-a-piece wheel clamps to Staten Island and Queens, before making what PayLock calls “the world’s first electromechanical boot” a citywide sight. 

After bailing out a locked tire, a newly legitimate motorist will have 24 hours to return the bright-yellow SmartBoot, which looks like a slightly exaggerated ’80s-era cell phone, to a PayLock drop-off site. After that, additional fines will begin to accrue at the rate of $25 per day, up to a maximum of $500.

The Department of Finance says the next-gen tire-jams will be a boon to parking enforcers and inveterate citation-magnets alike.

“[The program] will encourage compliance and facilitate debt collection while also reducing inconvenience to motorists,” said Department of Finance Commissioner David M. Frankel in a recent address to the City Council’s Committee on Finance. “Booting allows people to put their vehicles back on the road within minutes. It also allows people access to personal belongings left behind in the vehicle, such as infant car seats, prescription drugs or important paperwork.”

But Council Member Domenic Recchia (D-Coney Island/Gravesend), chair of the Committee on Finance, says he won’t be sold on PayLock until he sees results. Among the plan’s potential problems, as Recchia sees them, is the fact that it disadvantages motorists who don’t have easy access to a credit or debit card.

“I don’t know why they’re starting this in Brooklyn without having the office in Brooklyn open,” he said. “It’s very hard to pay by cash, so if you get a boot on your car you have to go and get a card. You either have to go to the Department of Finance [in Manhattan] or you have to go buy a cash card.”

Recchia also acknowledges that the program may not be accommodating to the borough’s elderly and disabled drivers, who could have trouble bending down to remove a 16-pound SmartBoot and getting it to a drop-off station.

In response to this concern, Karasyk said that, at no extra charge, “PayLock will provide assisted release with two to four hours of request, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

PayLock employees, in cooperation with the New York Sheriff’s Office, will enforce the booting program. 

“Vans, operated by Paylock, with a NYC deputy sheriff on board, are equipped with ‘license plate recognition’ technology [that will be] reading license plates,” Karasyk explained. “When the system finds a match, it alerts the NYC deputy sheriff, who determines if the vehicle can be booted.”

Recchia says that, under the current, tow-first-fine-later system, a sheriff or marshal must be present when a vehicle with more than $350 in unpaid violations is towed — to verify that there is due cause for towing and to take inventory of the vehicle’s contents.

After June 25, a booted vehicle will still be subject to towing if the owner doesn’t remove the tire lock within two business days of its installation. But according to Recchia, a sheriff or marshal will no longer have to sign off on a vehicle’s towing, only on its initial booting.

“Under this procedure, there’s no sheriff or marshal, just a towing company and a guy from a pay lot company,” he said. “Now they can take your car without doing an inventory. Things could be missing in the cars, and the city is opening itself up to lawsuits — people saying their iPad is stolen, their phone is stolen.”

During the initial rollout of the PayLock program, there will be three SmartBoot drop-off sites in Brooklyn, one in Williamsburg at 713 Kent Ave., one in East Flatbush at 581 Clarkson Ave. and one in Sheepshead Bay at 1712 East 14th St.

In addition to outstanding parking tickets, booted drivers will be responsible for paying a $180 “boot fee;” a $70 “sheriff’s execution fee;” a “poundage fee” equal to 5 percent of the total fines, including penalties and interest; and, if they choose to pay with card over the phone, a small “convenience fee.”

That means that if a reckless parker hits the $351 mark in unsettled debts, calls off the boot within two days and returns it within three, he or she will end up paying just under $300 in fees on top of parking fines.

As things are for the next week and a half, assuming a motorist collects a vehicle after one night of storage in a tow pound, he or she will clear the slate for about $100 less than that. 

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