The Volokh Conspiracy

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NYC's Private Anti-Idling Law Enforcers

A city program pays bounties to private citizens who report vehicles for excessive idling.


An increasing number of state and local jurisdictions place limits on how long trucks may sit idle with the engine running. Unnecessary truck idling is a significant contributor to local air pollution and results in additional greenhouse gas emissions to boot.

In New York City, private bounty hunters contribute to the anti-idling law's enforcement. As chronicled the New York Times, local citizens participate in the Citizens Air Complaint Program, submitting reports on trucks that idle longer then three minutes and collecting a portion of fines collected as bounties. As the Times reports:

Those who report collect 25 percent of any fine against a truck by submitting a video just over 3 minutes in length that shows the engine is running and the name of the company on the door.

The program has vastly increased the number of complaints of idling trucks sent to the city, from just a handful before its creation in 2018 to more than 12,000 last year. . . .

The bounty system appears to have been effective at enlisting local citizens to help enforce the law, but it has also led to conflict, as truck operators do not like being reported.

The program and the increased interest in filing complaints have brought a new game of cat and mouse to the city's streets, as citizen reporters prowl in search of idling trucks and drivers, perhaps stung by past fines, are increasingly wary of people with cameras. . . .

Despite efforts to evade citizen enforcers, the program brings in fines, and pays out significant bounties.

The city paid more than $724,000 in bounties last year alone, and $1.1 million since 2019. For its share, the city collected $2.4 million in fines last year, up 24 percent from when the program began in earnest three years ago.