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Suffolk to start booting, towing vehicles over unpaid tickets, fines

Suffolk officials announced they will start booting and towing vehicles of owners who have not paid either three parking tickets, three traffic citations or $300 in fines starting Friday. Newsday reporter Rachelle Blidner has more on this story. (Credit: Newsday / William Perlman)

If you have any outstanding parking or traffic tickets in Suffolk County, now might be a good time to try to pay them off.

Suffolk officials announced they will start booting and towing vehicles of owners who have not paid either three parking tickets, three traffic citations or $300 in fines starting Friday — Valentine's Day.

The “soft launch” will begin with commercial vehicles and expand to all vehicles by June 1, officials said. The program aims to help the county collect more than $30 million it is owed in unpaid fines and fees, officials said. 

While there are 47,816 vehicles that are eligible for the program, officials plan to go after 3,000 commercial vehicles to start as they monitor the program’s rollout. That number will expand until hitting full capacity by June. 

Owners must pay all their outstanding fines to get their cars unlocked from the boot, plus a $250 fine. If they haven’t paid within 48 hours, their cars will be towed for an additional $350 fee, plus $75 a day for every day the car is uncollected up to 30 days.

And there’s no payment plan.

Legislators, including several who voted to authorize the program in 2014, have expressed concern that the program will penalize people who are struggling financially the most.

“Who doesn’t pay their bills? The people who don’t have money,” said Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset). “How are you going to pay if you don’t have a car to get to work? It’s a horror.”

Paul Margiotta, executive director of the county’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said the program is aimed at people who have not attempted to pay. He noted that the county waived late fees and penalties from December 2018 through March 2019.

If  owners can afford car payments, insurance and gas, they should be able to pay parking tickets and traffic violation fines, Margiotta said. 

“This is their own doing,” Margiotta said. “We can’t allow people who say they can’t afford it to break the law and say, ‘I don’t have the money.’”

The county is aiming to collect $2 million this year, Margiotta said.

The program will also go after unpaid fines from the county's controversial red-light camera program, which officials have said they plan to amend after public outcry. 

Drivers with unpaid tickets could also have their vehicle registration suspended under an existing program, officials said. 

The Suffolk Legislature in 2014 authorized the county to impose a $250 fee for booting, $350 for towing and $75 daily storage fee.

Officials had said a boot and tow program could start as early as fall 2016, but it took six years to procure a vendor and design the program, Margiotta said.

The New Jersey-based vendor, PayLock Inc., will find scofflaw vehicles using cars with roof-mounted mobile license plate readers and laptop computers, officials said. The license plate readers will also be used to identify stolen cars and Amber Alert vehicles, officials said.

Nassau County and New York City have similar programs. Nassau targets vehicles with two or more unresolved violations. Since the program launched in 2012, it has generated over $38.7 million in net revenue, and nearly 50,000 vehicles have been booted, said Dave Rich, Nassau’s executive director of the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.

New York City targets drivers who owe $350 in fines.

Suffolk motorists can pay unpaid parking and red-light camera fines at https://suffolkcountyny.gov/tpva/Pay-Online.

Navigating Suffolk County's boot and tow program

  • If you have $300 in fines or three unpaid parking tickets in Suffolk County, your vehicle is eligible for the boot.
  • Suffolk will begin applying the boot to vehicles on Friday — Valentine's Day.
  • Boots can be put on cars parked on the street and in parking lots, but not on vehicles in private driveways.
  • Drivers can release the boot themselves after paying off all their fines. A notice will list a website and toll-free number where they can make payments using a credit card, debit card or check. They will then receive a six-digit code that they will enter into a keypad on the boot to release it.
  • Drivers can call a PayLock team to assist with removing the boot. The vendor will also come pick up the boot after removal, or motorists can drop it off at a PayLock location.
  • Should fines not be paid 48 hours after the boot is applied, vehicle will be towed and another $350 fine kicks in.
  • Suffolk won't allow a payment plan.

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