Council Members Want to Deputize Civilians to Combat Idling Vehicles

Donovan Richards and Helen Rosenthal proposed rewarding citizens who film automobiles left running on the street.

Cars, taxis and trucks sit in traffic in midtown Manhattan 15 August 2007 during the morning rush hour. The federal government has given New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg a postdated check of 354 million USD for his plan to ease city traffic through new tolls if he can win the approval of local lawmakers.The plan if enacted, calls for charging 8 USD to drive a car into Manhattan south of 86th street on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m (1800 GMT) and trucks would pay 21 USD. It would be the first city in the United States to have such a toll. AFP PHOTO TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Cars, taxis and trucks sit in traffic in midtown Manhattan (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Image

You could be a environmental hero for hire.

Queens Councilman Donovan Richards and Manhattan Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal have a bill that would create a program to recruit and train everyday New Yorkers to record and report illegally idling vehicles—and reap the revenues of the resulting tickets. The pair pointed out that the city issued just 209 tickets for private automobiles left standing for more than three minutes on the street or one minute in front of a school, despite their offices being inundated with complaints about exhaust.

“We know if you walked around City Hall for a day probably you could issue a thousand,” said Mr. Richards. “We’re here today because obviously the city has not done enough.”

The bill would obligate the Department of Environmental Protection to hold at least five yearly training seminars that would instruct citizens on how to record offending cars, trucks and buses in the act—with their license plates in the frame—and upload the video onto a yet-to-be-created website. If a judge then determines that a penalty is in order, the person who submitted the video will receive half the value of the ticket.

Ms. Rosenthal said that her director of constituent services struggles to get city agencies, which fall under the control of the mayor’s office, to respond to complaints from residents of her district about tour buses sitting on the street with their diesel engines running.

“He spends hundreds of hours on the phone tracking down DEP, responding to constituent complaints about idling on the Upper West Side,” she said.

City, MTA and emergency vehicles are all exempt from idling laws, and it would be DEP’s responsibility to handle the workings of the program.

The council members emphasized that their aim is not to drive up ticketing, but to drive down the quantity of particulate matter in city air, which has been linked to high rates of asthma and strokes.

“The big issue here is not fining people. The big issue is that people, especially our seniors and our children are being adversely affected,” Mr. Donovan said, adding that low-income and minority communities like his own often deal with the most pollution.

However, they said their was an economic component to the proposal.

“It’s great, because we’ll be creating jobs too,” Mr. Richards said, noting that tickets can run from $200 to $1,500 depending on how many infractions the motorist has on their record.

Council Members Want to Deputize Civilians to Combat Idling Vehicles