New York City

Ghostbusters: Hochul and Adams take on fake or obscured license plates

Cracking down on so-called ghost cars will be a joint effort to recoup bridge and tunnel toll money.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul teamed up with law enforcement to catch people avoiding tolls.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul teamed up with law enforcement to catch people avoiding tolls. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams are rolling out a new joint multiagency task force to crack down on cars with forged or altered license plates, hoping to curb fare evasion and the vehicles’ use in crimes.

The two leaders gathered atop the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge on Tuesday afternoon to announce the sprawling “unified effort” involving the New York City Police Department, the New York City Sheriff’s Office, MTA bridge and tunnel officers, the New York State Police, the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the Port Authority Police Department. The announcement was the latest in a string of actions by the state and city to curb fare evasion. Officials described the task force, which kicked off operations on Monday, as another joint state and city venture aimed at improving public safety.

The vehicles that will be targeted, which deploy counterfeit, missing or modified plates, have become more common since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ghost vehicles, ghost cars, ghost dirt bikes, they are not only a menace to our roadways, we are finding that they are participating in very violent and dangerous crimes,” Adams said. “They leave the scenes of criminality. We don’t know who they are. They disappear into the night. … This initiative is a proactive way of catching them before they do something dangerous.”

The MTA, which oversees the city’s transit system, seven bridges and two tunnels, lost nearly $50 million in 2023 to drivers using fake or obstructed license plates. Pointing to the increase, agency officials have urged Hochul to reclassify the penalty for evading tolls to “theft of service” – the same legal designation for cheating the fare on a bus or in the subways. The MTA also recently began installing cameras to monitor the controversial planned $15 congestion pricing toll on cars that enter Manhattan’s central business district during peak hours. The city has also sent more officers into the subways to combat a rise in crime underground in January but also to deter fare evasion.

Tuesday’s announcement marked the first time Adams and Hochul appeared together since her controversial deployment of the National Guard and state police to New York City subway stations. The mayor was notably absent from the governor’s announcement last week, raising initial questions about his level of enthusiasm for her move. Though he later applauded the governor’s decision, at least one high-ranking New York City Police Department official appeared frustrated that the state was stepping in to solve a problem that should fall under the city’s authority.

Both Adams and Hochul tried to further quell speculation Tuesday that her announcement sparked or signaled tensions between the two moderate Democrats. The leaders have maintained an amicable public relationship despite tensions over the ongoing influx of migrants and other budgetary constraints.

“Whenever we have needed assistance in this area, governor, you have stepped up,” Adams said, praising Hochul for her efforts on public safety. “You are trying to pull us apart, but it’s just not going to happen. This is a partner. She’s in charge of the state and she has made public safety a part of her overall agenda – her creativity and thinking outside of the box, coming up with new methods and being proactive.”

“We said at the very outset that the era of the governor of the state of New York and the mayor of New York City fighting is over. Instead we are teaming up to fight crime and the results are so evident,” Hochul said, pointing to the new task force as an example.

On Monday, as the group’s efforts kicked off for the first time, authorities impounded 73 cars, issued 282 summonses and arrested eight people at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln Tunnel – all river crossings that enter Manhattan. Similar joint operations will continue in the months ahead using marked police vehicles, tow trucks and automated license plate reader technology.

While the various agencies have long implemented their own efforts to crack down on fraudulent or missing license plates, Adams said the task force’s significance stems from the many agencies coordinating with each other – as well as the joint traffic operations.

“Exercising these actions together is going to send a message,” Adams said.