Some New Yorkers are raking in some extra cash by squealing on idling trucks and buses in the city.
The city's Department of Environmental Protection issued 1,038 summonses in 2018, a massive increase over the prior year, which saw only 24, according to DEP data reported by the New York Post. The spike followed a reward program implemented by city lawmakers as part of its effort to combat climate change and air pollution.
"Idling vehicles and the air pollution they emit is a serious public health issue and by empowering New Yorkers to document violations on their own we supplement the work of our inspectors," DEP spokesman Ted Timbers told the newspaper.
DEP has paid nearly $20,000 to 13 tattlers who've filed official complaints against lawbreakers.The whistleblowers receive a percentage of the fines collected from offenders.
Upper West Side banker George Pakenham spurred the city's reward program following more than a decade of anti-idling and pollution activism. In 2005, he discovered the rarely enforced 1971 NYC law that limits engine idling.
Pakenham was featured in the 2012 documentary, "Idle Threat: Man on Emission."
How does the reward program work?
Tipsters can file their complaints with DEP by submitting an online form, along with time-stamped photos or videos of the idling vehicle.
Fines vary from $350 to $2,000 depending on the length of idling time, where it was caught idling, and whether or not it was a repeat offense. Tipsters earn about 25 percent of the fine collected by the DEP.
Curbside idling is limited to three minutes in most parts of the city and no longer than one minute in a school zone.
It usually takes three months to receive the payout, Pakenham told the Post.
Who are the top reward earners?
Lawyer David Dong raked in the most at $4,912.80 from 47 summonses, according to the Post.
Zachary Tinkelman, a theater worker, netted $4,600, also from 47 summonses.
Pakenham came in third at $4,300 from 34 summonses. His total haul comes to about $10,000, including previous cases he prosecuted himself.
"It's sort of a miraculous thing that's taken place," Pakenham told the newspaper. "Citizens are doing the job that the police don't wish to do and they're being compensated for it, and at the same time they're cleaning up the air in New York City, so it's a trifecta of wins, so to speak."
The banker also offered to teach others how to join the effort to clean up the city's air.
"I know more about this than anybody, so I'm not stingy about my knowledge," Pakenham said.