A blogger in New York has used public data to prove that the New York Police Department (NYPD) ticketed thousands of cars that were actually parked legally.
Ben Wellington made the discovery after officers kept ticketing his own car, parked on a pavement ramp on the street where he lives.
Drivers have been allowed to park on some of these spaces since 2009.
The NYPD wrote to Mr Wellington to confirm his findings and sent a message to officers clarifying the rules.
To discover the extent of the problem, Mr Wellington examined data published through New York City’s Open Data portal, which includes information on the most common parking places in the city where tickets are issued to cars on pedestrian ramps.
He then checked some of the locations via Google Street View to ensure that the ramps were not connected to a crosswalk – in which case the ticket would have been justified.
At one spot in Brooklyn, $48,000 (£33,000) had been issued in erroneous fines over a two-and-a-half year period.
Mr Wellington detailed several examples on his blog, I Quant NY, including three more spaces at each of which more than $40,000 (£27,500) in fines had been given out over the same period.
“It was a surprising find,” Mr Wellington told the BBC. “What I was actually most surprised by was the response from the police department who basically said, ‘yep, that’s all true’ – that’s an unusual thing to happen when working with public data.”
In a statement, the NYPD said: “Mr. Wellington’s analysis identified errors the department made in issuing parking summonses.
“It appears to be a misunderstanding by officers on patrol of a recent, abstruse change in the parking rules.
“We appreciate Mr Wellington bringing this anomaly to our attention.”
It added that while traffic agents had been trained following the adoption of new rules in 2009, officers hadn’t.
A message has now been sent to all officers updating them on pedestrian ramp regulations.
To allow others a means of quickly checking which pedestrian ramp parking spaces are most frequently ticketed, Mr Wellington has plotted the 1,000 most common locations on an interactive map.
“I think all those spots got eight or more tickets in the last two-and-a-half years,” said Mr Wellington. “The list of five or more tickets had about 2,000 spots.”
Mr Wellington has used open data in the past to challenge ticketing decisions in the city.
He said he hopes his latest success will help to empower fellow citizens.
“I see it as a sign of what the future of government could look like as more data gets out and more citizens have the ability to look through that data and make recommendations for how cities could run better,” he said.
Mr Wellington added that he plans to do a follow-up analysis six months or a year from now, to check whether the number of erroneously issued tickets at pedestrian ramps has fallen.
Use of public data in cities around the world has increased in recent years.
The Future Spaces Foundation think tank, based in London, recently reported on how much transport data had been made openly available in various cities around the world.
For example, there are now more than 460 apps powered by Transport for London data while, in Singapore, commuters are able to access information on the current levels of standing room and seating available on public transport.
The city’s Land Transport Authority app also includes data on the availability of parking spaces near to a passenger’s destination.
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