Monday, July 4, 2011

Why They Might Tow Your Ticket Free Car in New York City

Improved technology is a split-game. Sometimes it creates the ability to move around government dictates, sometimes it allows the government to become more interventionist.

Henry Blodget just got his ticketless car towed in New York City. Before he could get it out of the car pound, he had to pay tickets he had outstanding on his other car. Blodget explains what went down:
And while I waited for [my car] to roll out of the tow-pound lot, I chatted with the man behind the counter about the marshals' "ways."

Thanks to some new technology, the man said, the marshals are now able to nail ticket-delinquents by their names, not just by finding cars that have accumulated unpaid parking tickets.

Every evening, the man explained, the marshals' agents hit the streets in their tow trucks, with one truck assigned to scan one side of the street, and another truck assigned to scan the other. The agents plug the plate numbers into a computer, and--thanks to a recent database integration--the computer scans not just the car bearing that particular plate but all other cars owned by the owner of that car. The agents scan thousands of plates a night and usually end up towing about 30 cars.

I asked about the cross-state issue: How did the marshals nail an owner who had cars registered in two different states? Weren't the databases separate?

The databases used to be separate, the man explained. But now, thanks to an intra-state agreement, New York has acquired the data held in the Connecticut, New Jersey, and several other key states' databases, which is updated each week. That data allows the marshals to bust delinquents who own cars registered out of state.

And that's when I finally understood why our truck had come up positive: Because of unpaid parking tickets on our other car--a Volvo station wagon my wife had registered in New York.

Interestingly, the marshal's man also explained that New York has recently found a way to start collecting money from the automatic red-light ticket cams that are set up all over the city to snap pictures of cars that float into the intersections too late. It used to be that, if you were from out of state, New York had no way to incent you to pay these tickets. But then the city decided to automatically convert all of these picture-cam violations to parking tickets, so the tickets started showing up in the marshals' databases. And now, said the man, the marshals are having a field day towing the cars of folks who got snapped running red lights several years ago and don't realize that these violations had been converted to unpaid parking tickets--thus making their cars eligible to be towed.

The future is about data, technologists tell us. And that's certainly the case in New York.

Parking-ticket delinquents, you have been warned!

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