New Orleans drivers to get 2-year brake tags, with easy-to-see expiration dates _lowres (copy)

The City of New Orleans unveiled a new vehicle inspection certificates, commonly called brake tags, on Jan. 18, 2016. And ever since that January, the city's parking enforcement officers have been checking to see if parked cars have current tags. 

A year ago, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration unveiled redesigned brake tags that prominently feature the expiration year, perhaps making it easier for police to spot drivers who don’t keep their tags current.

But officials then gave the city's diminished police force even more help when it comes to ticketing drivers for expired stickers: They quietly decided to let the city’s parking enforcement officers begin scanning parked cars for the violation.

It’s a revival of a practice abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, one that apparently was always expected to be revived and that the city says will encourage more motorists to get their vehicles inspected, making the streets safer for everyone.

However, the change is being decried by some critics as a money grab by the Landrieu administration, despite the city’s stated intention only of ensuring pedestrian and motorist safety.

One such critic is Chris Lane of New Orleans Citizens for Fair Parking, a group that lobbied City Hall last year for a compromise over a rate hike for the city's parking meters that went into effect a year ago, about the same time as the new stickers appeared.

Lane sees the additional brake tag enforcement as yet another burden for the city's drivers. 

"They don't make anything sporting for you in this city anymore," he said. "I think this is just another example of this administration nickel-and-diming the people who live here and that do the work here, and who have to pay the bulk of the taxes."

Lane's concerns aside, the move doesn’t appear to have generated much revenue thus far.

Of the more than 320,000 citations issued by parking control officers — also known as meter maids —in 2016, only 14 were for invalid brake tags, Landrieu press secretary Erin Burns said.

Police in previous years have written far higher numbers of tickets for invalid inspection stickers, more commonly known as brake tags. Roughly 5,000 were written by police in 2015, generating about $776,485 that year.

Further, while drivers pulled over by police are charged $202.50 for an invalid tag, which is considered in that instance to be a moving violation, the owners of parked cars cited for the same reason pay just $30 for the initial fine.

However, the ranks of the NOPD's Traffic Division were cut by more than half from 2008 to 2016, meaning there aren't many officers available to write such tickets.

The cash received from citations issued by the city's Department of Public Works generates revenue for the city's general fund, while tickets written by police in part help to fund the city's Municipal and Traffic Courts and the Public Defenders Office.

The parking control officers' right to scan parked cars for old tags is spelled out in the city's code, which was amended in 1996 for that purpose, Burns said.  

Whether criticized or lauded, the change could help spur action by drivers who have long shunned the annual ritual of getting a new inspection sticker. As a further incentive, those drivers now can take advantage of the two-year tags the city also unveiled last January.

Those tags cost $50 for vehicles that are less than 10 years old and that weigh 6,000 pounds or less, while the traditional one-year tag costs $25 for those vehicles.

Lane, however, questioned the city's apparent failure to publicize the change. 

Though he said he had been briefed, during discussions with Landrieu's staffers, on the city's intention to bolster its parking enforcement team in the future — the number of officers rose from 71 in 2015 to 92 in 2016 and to 97 this year, according to the city's 2017 budget — he said he did not know that the officers would add expired brake tags to their list of citations. 

That's a crucial detail, he said, considering that part of the compromise his group and some City Council members negotiated with the administration on meter rates called for raising the fines issued for parking violations. "I feel that this is another affront to the people of New Orleans, and it should have been discussed more openly," he said. 

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.