Open data stops illegal parking tickets in NYC

Ben Wellington runs I Quant NY with the aim of proving how open data can make a city better. His experience with parking tickets proves his point and more.

Ben Wellington noticed an issue:

I’ve got a pedestrian ramp leading to nowhere particular in the middle of my block in Brooklyn, and on occasion I have parked there.  Despite the fact that it is legal, I’ve been ticketed for parking there.  Though I get the tickets dismissed, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. And that got me wondering- How common is it for the police to give tickets to cars legally parked in front of pedestrian ramps?  It couldn’t be just me…

So he start to look at the data and he began to see a pattern. Cars parked near ramps (lowered curbs) were getting ticketed, but as Wellington points out as long a the ramp isn’t on a crosswalk, it’s OK to park there.

By analyzing the data he came to the conclusion that police officer where incorrectly issuing tickets. But the story doesn’t end there.

I reached out to the NYPD via the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics to tell them about the findings.  They helped me get in touch with the appropriate people at the NYPD, and then I waited.

A few weeks later he got a reply accepting his findings and noting how they would change the training of police officers to remedy the situation.

I Quant NY   The NYPD Was Systematically Ticketing Legally Parked Cars for Millions of Dollars a Year  Open Data Just Put an End to It

Wellington mapped the top 1000 pedestrian ramps generating parking tickets so people could check the legality of the tickets issued

As someone who gets asked for examples of the value of open data, in particular the value to those who publish the data, this is a simple, universal example that makes the concept easy to sell ** It’s a great story of a virtuous circle of open data. 

It’s also a great example of data driven journalism. Wellington saw an issue and wondered why? – one of the fundamental questions that journalism tries to answer – so he went and asked the data.

Wellington’s surprise at the response shows that, even as an advocate, he had low expectations. Open data still has a way to go. But as he says “THIS is what the future of government could look like one day. THIS is what Open Data is all about.”

I was particularly drawn to his conclusion:

Democracies provide pathways for government to learn from their citizens. Open data makes those pathways so much more powerful.  In this case, the NYPD acknowledged the mistake, is retraining its officers and is putting in monitoring to limit this type of erroneous ticketing from happening in the future.  In doing so, they have shown that they are ready and willing to work with the people of the city.  And what better gift can we get from Open Data than that.


 ** unless of course you’re the NYPD who I assume are now stealing themselves for some serious legal actions