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Starting Tomorrow, New Yorkers Can Unboot Cars By Phone

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PayLock's Smart Boot

PayLock's Smart Boot

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New York City drivers, we have bad news and good news.

First the bad news: if you have a fistful of unpaid traffic tickets, you're in danger of having your car booted. But then, you probably already knew that.

The good news? If you do get booted, starting tomorrow, you'll have a quick and easy to pay off those tickets and remove the boot yourself. According to the New York Daily News, it's all part of a plan authorized by Mayor Bloomberg in the hopes of increasing collections on outstanding fines.

The new program isn't too different from the one that preceded it (or from others in cities across the country): if you're carrying a balance of more than $350 in tickets, men and women in stain-resistant uniforms will come to your house and give your car the boot. To have it removed, you have to pay your fines in full, ASAP. 

But whereas you used to have to schlep down to a payment center, shell out some cash, and wait for another uniformed worker to come remove the boot, the new system -- overseen by PayLock -- allows you to pay fines over the phone with a credit or debit card. If the transaction's approved, you'll receive a special code that will allow you to remove PayLock's Smart Boot yourself, using a keypad right on the boot.

More bad news

If you're the sort of person who racks up a lot of traffic tickets -- as many NYC drivers do -- this may seem like a great development. But looks can be deceiving.

For starters, you're on the hook for more than the sum of your tickets. There's also a $180 "boot fee" and a "$70" execution fee (presumably meant to pay the worker who slapped on the boot in the first place). And don't forget the "poundage fee", which is calculated at 5% of the entire bill, including those add-on charges.

Paying by credit card? Add on a small convenience fee, too. Ouch.

When all's said and done, you can expect to pay almost as much in fees as you will in fines. That should cover most of PayLock's operating costs, so that the company can stash away the $14 million-per-year it's receiving from the city and save it for a rainy day.

Still more bad news

But wait -- the fun doesn't end there. Once you remove the boot, you still have to zip over to a PayLock payment center to return the thing. Failure to do so within 24 hours will cost $25 per day that it's late, up to $500.

And should you think, "Okay, I'll just leave my booted car on the street and release it next payday", think again. If you haven't settled up within 48 hours, PayLock will remove the boot and tow your ride to a city pound, which will tack on not just the $180 "booting fee", but also a $185 "towing fee". Presumably, you'll be charged for every day that your car's in the pound, too.

Worst of all

According to one city insider, although PayLock is up and running in many other cities around the country -- including Denver, New Orleans, Oakland, and Seattle -- New York's PayLock system hasn't been fully tested yet. Which means that in addition to the headache of getting booted and the heartache of having to pay a pirate's ransom in add-on fees, you may also develop ulcers from dodgy automatic release codes. 

Our advice? Pay your traffic tickets now. You may not put PayLock out of business, but you'll almost certainly be healthier -- mentally and physically.

[h/t John Voelcker]

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