StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Ghost Cars

We testified at today's New York City Council Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Committee on Public Safety joint oversight hearing on enforcement of defaced, fraudulent and expired license plates, focusing on the significant concern posed by drivers operating "ghost cars," motor vehicles with fraudulent license plates. Our full testimony follows below.

“Ghost cars,” vehicles with fake, obscured, or illegally covered license plates, are a serious, widespread, and seemingly worsening problem in New York City. Untraceable and unreadable plates allow drivers to flout speed- and red-light cameras and electronic tolls, an issue that will only compound when congestion pricing goes into effect. As Jesse Coburn has reported in a wide-ranging investigative series for Streetsblog, the proliferation of license-plate cheating cost the MTA, the Port Authority, and New York City more than a combined $100 million in lost toll and ticket revenue in 2022.

And that’s not the worst of it. Drivers of ghost cars have also left behind a trail of death and destruction. Isaiah Benloss, a former student of Council Member Rita Joseph, was struck in 2020 by the driver of a car with temporary New Jersey plates, and later died. The driver was never caught. Davina Afokoba, a 10-year-old constituent of City Council Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers, was killed by the driver of a car with temporary Texas plates early last year. That driver received only a summons.

Sadly, Isaiah and Davina were only the tip of the iceberg. According to NYPD, more than two dozen New Yorkers were killed by drivers of cars with temporary plates over the past two years, and 40% of those plates were fake. Cars with counterfeit or unreadable plates have been used in the commission of crimes, including murders. And while, according to Coburn’s reporting, the NYPD towed 3,300 vehicles with paper plates last year, they’re barely putting a dent in the problem.

Int. 0987-2023 – Support

For all the preceding reasons, we strongly support Council Member Feliz’s Intro 987, which would make it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle in New York City with a fraudulent license plate, fake temporary plate, or expired license plate. The legislation also sets a reasonable graduated fine schedule, which includes a curing period for replacing expired plates. The proposed law would not put anyone in jail, but the penalties should be substantial enough to curtail a fair amount of the illegal activity, assuming the law is adequately enforced.

Int. 0988-2023 – Support

We also support Council Member Feliz’s related bill, Intro 988, which would prohibit the sale or distribution of fraudulent license plates, including fake temporary plates, by updating Section 10-182 of the city’s administrative code, which already prohibits the sale of license plate covers and sprays. The bill would also impose substantial fines, of $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for subsequent offenses, which could mount quickly for someone engaged in the business of selling fake plates.

Taken together, we believe these bills will help put a dent in the spread of fraudulent license plates, which will both make the city’s streets safer and help reduce toll losses. We urge that both bills be passed by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the full Council as soon as possible.

We also strongly urge the creation of a task force that would include the NYPD, the New York City Sheriff, New York State DMV, and regional and federal transportation and law enforcement authorities to address the scourge of ghost cars. Jesse Coburn’s reporting reveals that the problem is widespread and crosses many state lines, and solving it will require a coordinated and holistic effort.

Int. 1011-2023 – Support

Lastly, we support Intro 1011, Chair Brooks-Powers’s bill that would require police to distribute information about reduced-fare programs to persons arrested or summonsed for fare evasion. While not everyone who jumps a turnstile is doing so purely for economic reasons, the city’s Fair Fares program is greatly undersubscribed, and access to half-price fares may help to encourage people to pay to ride public transit. It’s certainly worth a try. We’d even support an effort to give drivers whose ghost cars are impounded information about EZ-Pass.

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published this page in News 2023-06-26 22:33:01 -0400
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