An Analysis of 20,000 Idling Complaints in NYC
- This analysis was mentioned in the March 19, 2022 NYT story about idling complaints. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/19/nyregion/clean-air-idle-car.html
- Referenced in Jalopnik in September 2021. https://jalopnik.com/how-we-can-turn-the-tides-on-ineffective-idling-legisla-1847569916
- This analysis was referenced in detail in a Bloomberg article in Aug 2021 about idling. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-08-10/can-cities-finally-win-the-war-on-vehicle-idling
Back in December 2020 I made a FOIL request for all the data for the DEP Citizen Complaint Idling reports. On June 4, I received an Excel spreadsheet file via email with 20,000 records. [Original file] [Google sheet]
As a reminder, the DEP launched a program in 2018 where NYers could submit “citizen complaints” of idling vehicles (eg a truck with its engine running for more than 3 minutes). This would lead to a summons issued to the company that operates the commercial vehicle and once the company pays the fine, 25% of the settlement can be claimed by the individual who filed the complaint (typically $85).
This made some people a nice chunk of change.
What’s in the data
There are nearly 20,000 records here that each represent a unique report of a vehicle that was idling, submitted to the DEP. They break down as follows:
- 15.5k unique license plates
- 11.5k unique company names (however there are quite a few variations of the same company names, so I’d estimate this number to be closer to 3–5,000 actual companies)
- 500 unique submitters (known as “applicants”)
Vehicle Type breakdown
Let’s start with the basics. The rule of thumb for valid vehicles is basically bus, van or truck but specifically: does it have company info and a DOT number that is visible?
In front of a school
Normally, when a vehicle has a running motor for more than 3 minutes, that is considered as the threshold for idling. This means the DEP requirement for videos is that they must be a minimum of 4 minutes of unedited video so that they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the vehicle was idling. However, if the vehicle is on a street that borders a school, that threshold drops to 1 minute (with a 2 min recording requirement), a far easier amount of time to stand next to a truck and not draw too much attention!
Top offenders by company
Not surprisingly, the top companies we all know are in the top 10 list. Note that the actual data is quite dirty so the names of these companies often take different forms (eg Fedex, Federal Express, Federal Express DBA Fedex). I took some time to clean up a couple of the big ones to get to a more accurate overall number.
The top 10 offending companies (out of ~5,000) represent nearly 14% of all submitted complaints.
Top offenders by License plate
- OYB3670 — a FUJI express bus — got 23 reports. It is the top offender!
Here are the top 15 offenders by license plate:
Pro tip: these idling complaints do not appear in the open data violations record for a vehicle. So they won’t appear in howsmydrivingny.nyc.
The users who made submissions are known in the data as “applicants” but we will call them “reporters”. They are anonymous but you can at least group by the individual, gaining a sense of how many submissions the top reporters made.
The top 20 reporters filed 85% of all submissions!
- The # 1 reporter filed 20% of all submissions. They did 5–10 almost every day for long stretches, almost entirely around Hell’s kitchen (eg West 40s). This person is rich… :)
- The next 3 most active reporters filed about 10% each. They made some good $$ too!
The vast majority (84%) of reports are pursued (eg Notice of Violation sent to OATH). 2.6% are disqualified and 13% are “not pursued”. These are most likely due to insufficient video, incorrect data or some other reason, though there is no reason provided in the data.
By zipcode / location
- 10036 [Hells Kitchen] had 14.23%
- 10023 [Upper west side from 60th- 75th st] had 10%
- 10018 [Midtown West, borders Hells kitchen] 5.39%
- 11215 [Park slope & Gowanus] 5.10%
Here you can see how many reports were made each month with a major spike when the program really took off and then a major drop when the pandemic began in March 2020.
Cross Reference with Reported Data
I also ran a cross-reference to see how many of these 15.5k license plates were also reported at some point for blocking bike lanes or parking illegally via the Reported app. Not surprisingly, there were 700 reports for 423 of the plates over the last few years.
A few not-at-all-surprising comments:
Coned truck parked in bike lane, refused to move
Truck in photo was parked/standing in the bike lane headed north on avenue C. In order to go around I needed to wait for the green like and traffic in a one way street.
Blocked both bike lanes at the end of the 158th street hill
Mapping license plates to companies
One problem in open data is that we do not have company data on license plates. It’s frustrating to not know that a commercial license plate is owned by Verizon or Coned, etc. This should be public. Here, we can utilize this dataset to map license plates to the companies that operate them. With this new FOIL data, you can quickly identify from a given license plate (if it’s been reported previously) what company it belongs to, eg UPS, Fedex, Coned, Amazon… This unlocks a few interesting opportunities such as auto-populating company data for idling complaints on any known vehicle in the system, and identifying the company when users report vehicles blocking bike lanes.
How would you use this data to gain new insights? What kinds of questions are you looking to answer? Please let me know and comment!