Ghost Cars Targeted by City/State Agencies in New Crackdown

Over 70 cars that were seized by law enforcement agencies were on display at a joint city/state press conference on March 12 on Randall’s Island. The move comes only months before the anticipated roll out of congestion pricing and law enforcement officials are already seeing a rise in fake or covered license plates.

| 13 Mar 2024 | 10:25

The city and state have announced a new joint crackdown on so-called ghost cars.

Sounding almost cartoonish, these cars are practically invisible in New York to traffic cameras and toll readers, given their forged or altered license plates. Criminal elements use them for violent and larcenous acts; people injured or killed in hit and run accidents suffer, but the drivers do not. Up until now, anyone in these cars felt an invincibility in a vehicle devoid of true identification.

Now, miscreants are running up against something that wasn’t there before a multi-agency task force that Governor Kathy Hochul dubbed “the ghostbusters” during a press event March 12, on the MTA’s Robert F Kennedy Bridge. Six NYC Metropolitan area agencies are sharing information to alleviate the illegal use of improper plates.

“Outlaws have been purchasing fake or paper license plates online to avoid tolls and tickets, as well as to evade accountability for serious crimes, but we’re pumping the brakes on the use of ‘ghost plates’ with the help of this multi-agency task force,” said Mayor Eric Adams.

Ghost cars are often unregistered, uninsured, or stolen. While the illegal practice of forging or altering license plates is not new, the crime proliferated during the pandemic, with drivers masking their identities by using counterfeit temporary paper plates to evade detection.

While it was not mentioned at the press conference, the imminent rise of congestion pricing, which will slap a $15 toll on cars entering Manhattan streets below 60th St. during peak hours, has also sent some residents seeking ghost plates or illicit means to avoid the new toll.

The day before Tuesday’s press event, as an example of this new cooperation, an inter-agency operation was performed. Agencies included the NYPD, the New York City Sheriff’s Office, MTA bridge and tunnel officers, the New York State Police, the New York State DMV, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department.

The task force performed traffic-safety actions at three river crossings that enter Manhattan: the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln Tunnel. Law enforcement utilized marked police vehicles, including various-sized tow trucks, automated license plate reader technology, and officer observations. By the end of the eight-hour operation, the total was 73 impounded cars, 282 summonses, and arrests of eight individuals; including the driver of a commercial vehicle from Newark, NJ, whose owners owed the Port Authority over $130,000 in tolls and fees.

The NYPD’s Transportation Bureau established the new inter-agency task force with the mission of conducting eight-hour enforcement operations approximately once a month.

Times and locations around the city will be chosen after analyzing toll and motor vehicle data.

“No one is above the law,” said Adams at the press conference. “These cars might not have license plates, but we’ve got their number, and we’re going after anyone who tries to make their car untraceable.”

In her address to the press as part of the event, Governor Hochul noted “We have the technology. We have everything we need in place to go after these ghost cars, ghost vehicles. In fact, today, the Ghostbusters have arrived.”

In her Executive Budget, Governor Hochul proposed legislation that would improve toll collections throughout the State by increasing fines and penalties for driving with altered plates, prohibiting the sale or distribution of covers that obscure license plates, allowing police to seize illegal plate covers, and restricting DMV registration transactions for vehicles with suspended registrations for failure to pay tolls or failing to remove plate-obscuring materials.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber observed, “Toll-dodging drivers cost the MTA an estimated $50 million every year—money that could be reinvested into modernizing the New York City transit system. That’s the public’s money they’re taking.”

While this doesn’t reach fare evasion on the MTA’s rail and bus operations which are estimated to be over $700 million a year, it’s still a significant amount in the organization’s budget shortfall.

To combat the ghost car scourge during 2022 and 2023, the NYPD, the New York City Sheriff’s Office, and their law enforcement partners arrested nearly 11,200 drivers and impounded their vehicles, seized almost 12,900 additional vehicles, and issued motorists over 21,200 moving violation summonses.

“We have the technology. We have everything we need in place to go after these ghost cars, ghost vehicles. In fact, today, the Ghostbusters have arrived.” Governor Kathy Hochul