NEW YORK CITY — The city hasn't forgiven hundreds of dollars in parking tickets a Bellevue hospital nurse received at the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic, despite a promise from Mayor Bill de Blasio that it would do so, the essential worker said.
“I just think it’s sad. I’m a nurse, I'm an essential worker, and I’m still getting billed," Marilyn Cabrera-Parris said. "I just don’t think its fair.”
Cabrera-Parris is among at least 20 frontline nurses who received thousands of parking tickets this summer, despite owning one of 10,000 COVID-19 parking placards issued by the Department of Transportation in March.
During a July press briefing, de Blasio was asked about the tickets, and he quickly promised fines would be forgiven for nurses who could prove they’d been issued a placard.
“I have every reason to believe that we can resolve this,” de Blasio said. “And not make them – not see them penalized for doing the extraordinary work they're doing.”
The city is now working to dismiss about 2,000 tickets, according to a City Hall spokesperson, who added, "We’re eternally grateful for the heroic work of nurses during this unprecedented health crisis."
And the Department of Finance has since posted an online portal where health care nurses can submit copies of their placards and dispute tickets.
But when Cabrera-Parris tried to fight $500 worth of tickets through the portal later that month, it didn’t work, city records show.
Four $50 tickets came back with guilty verdicts, and a stern warning the fine was "past due," and rulings on six others are pending.
“I explained, 'I’m a nurse, I work at Bellevue,'” Cabrera-Parris said. “It’s just disheartening.”
The Department of Finance press office did not respond to repeated requests for more information about how many nurses were ticketed and how many of those nurses were found guilty after submitting copies of parking passes.
But a Manhattan nurse with a placard, who asked not to be named, confirmed they also received a guilty verdict, and nurse Olivier Germain told NY1 about a dozen others have experienced the same.
“I’m absolutely disgusted,” Germain said. “They blindly dismissed two or three tickets here and left everything else guilty.”
The problem was bus lanes.
Cabrera-Parris and other nurses parked in those bus lanes in the early hours, before their shifts began, before "no standing" times began and when it was legal to do so, Germain explained.
Placards are not intended to be used in bus lanes or any "no standing anytime" spots, according to the Department of Transportation.
"Parking permits of any kind are not valid in active bus lanes," a DOT spokesperson said. "Also, the valid parking locations are listed on the permit."
But many nurses found it difficult to find parking near the hospital, or to make time to move cars during shifts that had become ceaseless battles against the virus, Germain said.
“If you walk out, you’d be leaving your patient,” Germain said. “There was zero opportunity to move your car.”
Others, such as Cabrera-Parris, didn't realize she was misuing her placard because tickets were sent by mail, and not left on windshields, she said.
“Had someone said, ‘Hey, this is wong,’ I would have said, ‘OK, lesson learned,’” Cabrera-Parris said.
While the problem is a financial one for Cabrera-Parris, for Germain, who has spent weeks trying to find a solution for his fellow nurses, it’s a question of respect.
Germain faces about $2,000 in parking tickets, but has less options for recourse because he never received a pass, which were handed out by lottery.
“I’m not looking for money,” Germain said. “It’s all about what’s right and what’s wrong.”
It was also a question of respect for de Blasio who said, when he announced the release of the placards in March that the placards were just “a small and helpful thing we can do right now.”
“These folks are doing heroic work, they are working exceedingly long hours, putting themselves at risk,” the mayor said. “We must support them in every way we can.”
That same month, Cabrera-Parris began working with COVID-19 patients at Bellevue Hospital.
The curve has since been flattened, but Cabrera-Parris's family is still coping with the fear they felt for her, and the Bellevue nurse feels a pang of dread every time she checks her mail.
“You don’t know how many other tickets are going to come your way,” she said. “You just feel horrible.”