Sheriff Reboots Car Fine Collections After Costly Pandemic Pause
By placing boots on vehicles, the city is making money from tickets again — with drivers paying higher fees than ever.
The New York City Sheriff’s Office has booted thousands of cars in the last few months after repeated warnings to drivers about hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid parking tickets.
The city’s Department of Finance began sending letters in March to drivers with pandemic-era parking and traffic-camera tickets, to let them know that enforcement would resume after being put on pause in spring of 2020.
The first warning brought in more than $50 million in unpaid tickets. A second warning sent in July brought in another $30 million, according to city officials. The tickets are for parking violations, speed camera and red-light camera violations, and other vehicle-related issues.
But with more than $310 million in unpaid tickets still owed the city, the boots — fluorescent metal tire clamps that immobilize the vehicle — appeared in force in August, when 9,695 vehicles were slapped with the driving impediments, according to the DOF data.
And last month, enforcers from the sheriff’s office put boots on 11,232 vehicles, data shows — nearly three times more than September 2021, when that number was just 3,345. Only one car was booted in September 2020, according to the data. In fact, that was the only car booted in the five boroughs between March 17, 2020 and Feb. 21, 2021.
Gimme the Boot Loot
Fiscally, the drastic boot-up seems successful. Enforcement over this past August and September delivered the most revenue from vehicle tickets to the city for any two-month period since 2014, according to Finance data — with more than $11.4 million in September and more than $11.7 million in August.
Meanwhile, recent reports have highlighted flouting of traffic laws, especially when speed cameras weren’t looking.
The push to recoup money owed from tickets also comes as the city faces a budget crunch, although a City Hall spokesperson said the booting was unrelated.
Mayor Eric Adams last month asked all city agencies to present plans to reduce their budgets by 3% this year and more than 4% over the next two fiscal years, as the city continues to recover from the pandemic and faces the loss of federal money to help during the crisis.
“The increase in enforcement measures are a direct result of the backlog of outstanding tickets that were issued during the pandemic, when penalties and booting were suspended,” mayoral spokesperson Jonah Allon told THE CITY.
“The administration will continue to enforce the city’s traffic laws and hold accountable motorists violating the law,” Allon said.
He said the city “provides ample warning to motorists before booting their cars and offers several ways for motorists to resolve their debts.”
The boot punishment is reserved for those who owe more than $350 in parking and other vehicular violations, like speed and red-light camera tickets, according to the city.
Even after getting clamped, a car can still be towed to a pound if the tickets — and related boot fees — aren’t paid within two business days.
To get the approximately 16-pound boot off, a driver has to pay a $136 booting fee, $80 sheriff’s or marshal’s execution fee, a $25 daily fee and a poundage fee that is 5% of all of the penalties and fines.
Out, Damned Boot
At a finance department center on John Street, where drivers can pay tickets in person, most of the people seemed to be there for booted cars, according to visitors outside.
One woman there, Emily, who declined to give her last name, said she found her car with the dreaded boot near her Marble Hill apartment last week and had been trying for days to get it off.
“I’ve never seen so many boots in my area,” she told THE CITY. “Everybody’s here for the same reason.”
She said the unpaid tickets piled up after she was laid off from her job in event planning when COVID shut the city down.
She tried to make a payment plan but the city’s system was down Thursday, and she was told staffing issues have also caused delays.
She had taken the day off from work and was still awaiting help at 12:30 p.m. despite having a 9 a.m. appointment.
“It’s just a hot mess everywhere, but it’s really affecting me,” Emily said.
After paying off the unpaid tickets and related fees, drivers are given a code to get the boot off their cars – and then have to return the boot to one of the dozens of drop-off centers.
At one such center inside a parking garage at 55 Water St., employee Jessica Perez said more and more people were coming in over the last few weeks.
“There were days we didn’t get any and now we get five a day,” she told THE CITY.
By the time people drop off the devices, she said, although they may be relieved to be paid and done, they are still angry over the whole process.
“Nobody wants to get their vehicle booted, and drivers come and we explain that we don’t have anything to do with booting the cars,” she said. “We are only a drop-off location.”