How to Get Paid to Report Idling in New York City

Sep 19th, 2019 | By Jeremy Kranowitz

"New York Post" by mag3737 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Oil is in the news again. While $4 per gallon gasoline may be a distant memory for some, a shock to oil markets could easily bring us back to those unpleasant days of a decade ago. There may be reasons to be jittery. Recent news stories are tracking attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities and other global events and how they might affect fuel prices. Stories about oil in other parts of the world make the news because the United States imports over 10 million barrels of oil per day. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2017 we imported 9% of our oil from Saudi Arabia, 6% from Iraq, and 7% from Venezuela. 

A recent development in New York City is now allowing citizens to take part in making a difference by saving fuel, raising awareness, and earning money at the same time. Sustainable America’s friend George Pakenham, creator of the movie Idle Threat: Man on Emission, successfully lobbied the New York City Council to pass legislation allowing citizens to file complaints against idling vehicles and pocket 25% of the fine, which can range from $350 to $2,000 for a repeat offense.

I filed my first citizen complaint in New York this summer, and it was easy. The city has an online portal that allows citizens to submit complaints. First, I had to create an online profile and sign a notarized form that I attest to the evidence I will submit and that I am prepared to go to court, if necessary, to prove my allegation.

Then, I needed to find and record an idling offender. This was the easy part. In June, I was attending a meeting on the west side of the city and quickly found a truck idling with no driver present. I started filming the truck idling, along with its license plate and the name of the company on the side of the door. Then I waited 4 minutes. (The law in New York is that you can’t idle longer than 3 minutes anywhere in the city or 1 minute next to a school unless you’re in an emergency vehicle or the engine is being used for loading, unloading, or processing devices like lifts and refrigeration.) I took a few more seconds of film of the truck still idling 4 minutes later. I submitted both files to the portal. Here’s what my complaint looks like!

I just received word that a summons has been issued and a hearing date has been set. If the defendant pleads guilty, they just pay the fine. If they want to contest the ticket, they will need to show up for the hearing. If I am required to attend the hearing, I will be notified.

By submitting this citizen’s complaint, I’m hopeful that the driver has been made aware of the infraction and won’t do it again. And it may lead the company to make it a policy not to let their drivers idle for fear of future fines. But more importantly, as a result of a new idling policy, the company could start to gain the benefit of saved fuel costs. And the air quality (and noise) in New York will be incrementally better.

As an added bonus, I expect to receive at least $87.50 at some point soon. George Pakenham has pocketed $11,000 from submitted idling complaints over the past year!

If you live in or visit New York City, please take part yourself. You can learn more about the process and what evidence you need to collect on the city’s Citizens Air Complaint Program webpage. If you live outside New York, you can work with your own town or city council to learn about the idling laws in your area. Check out and our new anti-idling toolkit for idling information and tools to take action. Let’s make idling a thing of the past, and make a more Sustainable America.

Jeremy Kranowitz is Sustainable America’s former executive director and the new president and CEO of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.

Tagged: idling, vehicle idling, George Pakenham, I Turn It Off, oil, gas prices, New York City, air pollution

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