2008-12-05 / Editorial/Opinion

City Summonses: Deterrent Or Revenue Stream?

It is fairly easy to guess at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's priorities by watching what he does. For example, his minions, who do nothing without his blessing, recently hired nearly 700 traffic enforcement agents (TEA) - the people who give out motor vehicle summonses - while, at the same time, cutting a police academy class and reducing evening hours for at least nine firehouses. It would seem to most city residents, we believe, that more police and fire protection is a no-brainer, especially when measured against more parking tickets. If you believe that, however, you don't understand what's going on. When they were first instituted, summonses and fines for such behavior as having a dirty street in front of your store or parking too long at a parking meter were meant to stop that behavior and to punish those who continued the improper behavior. The hope was that a summons or fine insured that the behavior would end. Now, however, in the midst of an economic crisis, those fines and summonses have become far more - they have become a revenue source that the mayor counts on to fill the budget gap left by the demise of Wall Street. That fact leads to the kind of thinking that makes traffic enforcement agents more important than police officers and firefighters. It also leads to quotas and abuses. At a time when a typical TEA writes 24 tickets in a day, according to city statistics, some actually write 50 in a five-hour tour. That is approximately ten an hour, every hour, every day. According to a New York Times story, one TEA wrote 227 tickets in a fivehour tour. That, of course, is something of a record that did not endear him to Brooklyn motorists. Think about that for a minute. Five hours to write 227 tickets - 45 tickets an hour. That's almost one a minute. Even with a hand-held scanner, that is a tough feat to beat, but perhaps the new TEAs will shoot to break his record. The mayor would like that. After all, the name of the business game is squeezing every possible buck out of the customer, and in the mayor's game, all of the city's residents are his customers, fit to be plucked in all sorts of ways that nobody ever considered in the past. Using summonses and fines as a revenue source is just one of the recent games. We think it should stop, because once you count on the revenue that comes from fines and summonses, you have to find a way to keep that revenue stream going, whether or not the fines and summonses should have been given in the first place.

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