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Do you have a smartphone? Then you could make thousands of dollars reporting trucks idling illegally on the streets of New York City. For decades, cities have forbidden idling to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. Now, New York City is asking for help and offering a generous bounty for your trouble.

What does idling mean?

Idling a vehicle means leaving its engine running while parked. It is usually unnecessary. Because the practice contributes to emissions and noise pollution, there are laws against it in over 30 states.

What are New York City’s anti-idling laws?

A food delivery truck parked in New York's flatiron district with its liftgate down.
Delivery truck in New York City | Richard B. Levine via Getty Images

In New York City (NYC) limits, you cannot leave your engine idling for more than three minutes. If you are in a school zone this number drops to one minute.

For years, this law was classified as a “moving violation” and only police officers could enforce it. But most commercial vehicles continued to idle with no recourse.

New York City’s first solution was to enlist parking inspectors. But commercial vehicles continued to idle while parked. So in 2018, New York introduced its “Citizens Air Complaint Program.”

How to make a ‘citizen’s air complaint’ in new York City

A heating oil truck driver standing in front of his tanker and waiting for fuel to finish pumping.
Tanker truck delivering heating oil | DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

To make a “citizen’s air complaint” to the city of New York, you need to first witness a commercial vehicle idling unnecessarily for more than three minutes–or more than a minute while near a school. This cannot be a private vehicle. The idling vehicle must either be a truck used for “the transportation of property” or a bus with a “seating capacity of 15 or more passengers.” Armored trucks are exempt. So are buses that are actively loading or unloading passengers.

Because the city will need to take the owner of the vehicle to court, you’ll need to collect some evidence. You can use NYC’s official timestamp camera app to record a video of said vehicle idling for at least three minutes. Make certain that any lettering identifying the vehicle’s owner, and its license plate, is clearly visible.

Next, you can log onto NYC’s Citizen Air Complaint website. You can use the portal there to upload your video and log your complaint.

How much money can you get for reporting idling trucks and buses?

A UPS delivery truck idling in front of the New York City skyline.
Delivery truck in New York City | Charl Folscher via Unsplash

New York City is generous with its bounties for reporting idling vehicles: If a citizen’s air complaint results in a fine for a fleet operator, the city will give the citizen reporter 25% of the fine.

George Pakenham is a documentary filmmaker and an activist against vehicles idling. He actually lobbied the city of New York to create the Citizen Air Complaint Program. In 2019, he told Vice News that he has pocketed $9,000 thanks to his vigorous reporting efforts.

New York City is not the only place you can report vehicles idling: Governments from Texas to Washington D.C. accept citizen complaints. But none of them offer bounties like New York. See Pakenham show Vice News how to make money reporting idling trucks in the video below:


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