On Saturday, my car was impounded.
Well, actually that’s not quite true. The car was impounded on Monday, the 5th, but I only noticed it on Saturday the 10th because that was the first time I wanted to use it. This being New York City, I mostly rely on trains and only use the car when necessary. On Saturday I was on my way to sub in net for an ice hockey team at Chelsea Piers, and my goalie gear was waiting for me in the back seat. Or so I thought–in fact it was 16 miles away, in an impound lot that had already closed for the weekend.
It’s also my girlfriend’s car, not mine. So that was a fun conversation. In case you’re wondering how much it costs to have a car ticketed, towed, and impounded for one week in New York City, the total bill is a little more than $500.
This is not a small amount of money, but it is also not enough to break me–which is a fairly recent development. Five or so years ago, it would have been financially devastating for either Liz or I to have to pay $500 to access my sole mode of transportation. We would have had to skip paying utility bills, cut back on food, or go into debt, and that fact is not lost on either of us. Shitty as this experience is, it reminds me of the good luck and privilege we enjoy–and realize how crippling this would be for many people living and working in New York City.
Before we get into the high cost of parking fines, let me address what some of you are certainly thinking: If you don’t do the crime, don’t do the time, am I right? Look at that picture above. I was parked exactly where that black car is parked, right behind the construction site and the sign that says “NO PARKING” with an arrow pointing the other way. Wouldn’t you think that was a safe spot to leave your car? I did. But it’s not–the important signs are those smaller ones, at the fringes of the photo, that say you can’t park on that whole six-car stretch of the block during business hours. So sure, my mistake, but can you really blame me?
Now, let’s talk fees. There’s no real reason parking penalties are so high in New York City, except that the city wants money. During this recent tantrum by the NYPD, the one thing the city pushed officers to keep up was writing parking tickets–specifically because they need the revenue. While other cities might at least pretend their police activity is meant to preserve law and order, in New York they hardly even pretend–and, as with criminal enforcement, most of those revenues are generated at the expense of the poor.
One might argue that fees must high because New York is so affluent that lower fines would hardly be felt,* but the wealthy people who might ignore such fees don’t often encounter them. Wealthy people can afford reserved parking spaces, and towncars, and drivers, or at the very least a driveway somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens. It’s the poorer folks, who have to rely on street parking and slavishly observe the alternate-side ritual, moving the car from one side of the street to another, who are hurt by high parking fees.
* At roughly $73 per day, being towed and impounded was still cheaper than parking in some Midtown garage lots.
As a friend said on Facebook, “This is how a working person dependent on their car, living paycheck to paycheck, can become homeless.” Not only did I have to pay to get the car back, I had to live without it for a day and a half (the impound lot closes early on Saturday and isn’t open Sunday), I missed an obligation (a hockey game–but what if I were going to work?) and Liz had to spend a good chunk of today’s business hours traveling to the impound lot to pick it up. What if we both worked hourly jobs and couldn’t get away? Well, then the car would be sold at auction and the city would get that revenue.
On Our Next Episode: Keelty boxes City Hall