Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nice To Know

As some of you may recall, I have a temporary position as the (THE one and only) writer for a series of English-language magazines for Israeli children and teens who are learning the language. I wrote two versions of the Summer issue, one for older kids with better English, one for beginning younger kids, and am now working on four versions of the September issue, which is given out in schools.

For the "soft news" section, I decided to write a short blurb about a topic that caught my eye in an American paper recently: that of foreign diplomats in New York (that is, consulars and UN diplomats) who do not pay their parking tickets. It used to be that diplomats who did not pay their parking fines were costing New York City millions of dollars every year - they knew that the city would not tow cars that have diplomatic plates. New York has been cracking down on these foreign governments, taking the unpaid fines out of aid packages (for the last three years) and, more recently, towing cars whether they have diplomatic plates or not.

Since this is a magazine for Israeli children, I had to find out where Israel falls on the spectrum of parking-ticket negligence. For the record, the (native Israeli) editor and graphic designer were absolutely convinced that Israel must be one of the worst perpetrators, that of course our diplomats are embarrassing us, right?

Well, wrong. Yesterday I called the Mayor's office of the City of New York, and a spokesperson there told me that Israel is one of the best countries in terms of paying parking fines, and always has been. He said that even before the city started cracking down on parking scofflaws, Israel had "hardly any" unpaid tickets, and now is "pretty much down to zero."

For those who want more details, here are some interesting things I found out from the Mayor's office:

  • It has always been the case that the more closely allied a country is with America, the more likely their embassies and consulates are to pay their parking tickets.
  • The City of New York does not keep records on which countries receive the most tickets, only on which ones have the most outstanding unpaid fines. So they do not know whether Israeli diplomats (or any other diplomats) tend more to park legally, or whether they violate parking rules a lot but virtually always pay up when caught.
  • Three years ago, the Senators of New York passed through a bill in Washington to the effect that whatever unpaid parking fines a country has in New York City or Washington, D.C. will automatically be deducted from that country's aid package at the rate of 110 percent. After that, the spokesman said, unpaid parking tickets became much less of a problem.
  • So . . . . the countries that most outlandishly flaunt their parking fines and never pay up tend to be those who are neither allied with America, nor receive US aid. The spokesman said "you can make your own deductions from that."

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