Can’t Find Your Car? NYC Wants an App for That

The New York City Council is considering legislation that would require vehicles towed because of temporary parking restrictions to be reported online and through 311.

by / March 23, 2015
New York City Council Member Ben Kallos wants to give residents the ability to find their car online if it's been towed for a special event. Shutterstock

If you’ve ever spent a lot of time in a big city, chances are you or someone you know has had a car towed and couldn’t easily find it. It’s a problem in the Big Apple, and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos is trying to do something about it.

Kallos, who represents Gotham’s Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, has introduced legislation that enables owners of cars towed due to emergencies or temporary parking restrictions to be able to find where their vehicle is through an online application or by 311. Tracking is currently only available for cars taken to impound lots because of standard parking violations.

Int 0686-2015 amends the city's administrative code directing the New York City Department of Transportation to make the locations of towed vehicles available using a searchable database of license plate numbers. If enacted, the amendment to the law goes into effect 90 days after being signed.

Kallos cited personal experience as one of the reasons he wanted to pursue a technological answer to what’s a growing problem in the city. His mother's car was towed in Manhattan and relocated five blocks away from its original location. He said it took hours to find it.

In an email to Government Technology, Kallos noted that New York City is one of the film industry’s busiest shooting locations, which is another frequent reason vehicles get towed. Production companies already provide a list of towing locations to local police precincts. But the precincts are not staffed or set up to provide the information to vehicle owners in the same manner as 311 can, according to Kallos’ office.

Kallos believes changing the city code will make it easier for people to find their towed vehicles and help alleviate the stress when owners discover their car is missing.

“These simple actions would allow residents the peace of mind of easily locating their car through the same methods as when a car is towed for violations,” Kallos said. “While this would streamline the process for the city and film production companies, our focus is on making residents’ lives easier.”

When asked if there are privacy implications by maintaining a public database of license plate numbers online – particularly if thieves are tracking high-end vehicles – Kallos said cars impounded for normal parking violations can already be located online on the city’s website. Kallos added that he’s committed to privacy, but wants the same locator service extended for temporary violations.

Int 0686-2015 has been assigned to the Committee on Public Transportation. If it passes, the bill will be considered by the entire New York City Council. If the council votes in favor of the bill, it will then be sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will hold a public hearing on the measure before signing or vetoing the legislation.

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.