By Philip Newman
“Raising the tow threshold would be another step toward making the parking system fairer,” Assistant Commissioner Sam Miller of the New York City Finance Department said last week. “The Department of Finance supports the bill to raise the threshold from $230 to $350,” Miller testified at a public hearing last Thursday before the City Council Transportation Committee, of which Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) is chairman.Miller said it now requires about two tickets to bring the amount of the fines to $230 and thus to the point at which a vehicle can be towed.The legislative bill to increase from $230 to $350 the level of parking fines, after which vehicles could be towed, was introduced by Councilman Erik Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn).The Transportation Committee noted that although parking fines increased over the past few years, there had been no corresponding increases in the threshold when cars may be towed.”This has created an unfair situation in which cars can be towed for as few as two parking tickets,” the Transportation analysis said.”Despite a decrease in parking tickets issued in 2004, the number of cars towed increased from 234,000 in 2003 to 250,000 in 2004,” the Transportation Committee said.Miller said Finance Commissioner Martha Stark “has directed Finance staff to make both the adjudication and collection processes as fair and as efficient as possible.”For example, two years ago Finance instructed its administrative law judges to dismiss defective tickets even in cases where the owner of the car did not point out the error,” Miller said. “That's because it is important that tickets be written correctly and no one should have to hire a lawyer or memorize the traffic code to successfully fight a ticket.”Miller disclosed that 80 percent of motorists who get tickets pay them immediately or “off the windshield,” while about 20 percent challenge their tickets and most pay after a hearing determination. A small percentage do not pay right away and “that's where Finance's collection tools kick in.,”John Choe, a spokesman for Liu, said the legislation must first be voted out of committee and then be voted on by he entire City Council, a process expected to require perhaps five to six weeks. If passed, it would presumably be signed into law by the mayor and take effect immediately.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.