Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

September 12, 2010

N.Y. gives us an 'F'

By Bill Wolcott
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

LOCKPORT — How come all the new yellow and blue license plates begin with an ‘F?” Is there any rhyme or reason to the plate letters and numbers? Shouldn’t a citizen be given a clue to where the driver in front of you is from in New York state?

There’s no “F” in Lockport or Niagara or North Tonawanda.

The cops, through New York Statewide Police Information Network, better known as NYSPIN, can tell who you are (or who you should be) through a click on their car computer. They know the color of your car (or what it should be), if you’ve had any violations and if your registration is current.

I don’t need to know too much information. I’m just curious to know where you call home. “F” tells me nothing.

By the way, the new plates are “Empire Gold” and blue, should an out-of-state relative begin laughing at the Empire State colors screwed to your bumper.

Sharon A. Luskin, the deputy county clerk, couldn’t be quoted on her opinion of the new colors, but tried to clear the letter and numbers game up for me. There’s no rhyme or reason, but there is a system. Whatever it is, it keeps 350 inmates at the Auburn Correctional Facility self-supporting and able to show a profit.

“Some people love them or they hate them,” Luskin said the of Empire gold and blue. “On some cars they look OK and other cars they look crappie. Our president of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Association absolutely hates them.”

There are renewal options: 1. Keep existing plates; 2. Renew and receive random Empire Gold Plate ($25 fee); 3. Renew and receive new style plate with the same number ($25 plate fee and $20 to remanufacture the same number.)

“Most people are sticking with what they got,” Luskin said. Not surprising.

Right now Empire gold and blue are going on passenger cars and motorcycles. All the others are blue and white. “The Lockport office is still issuing blue and white commercial plates,” Luskin said. “The state is being frugal and using up inventory. Eventually everybody with have blue and gold.”

Over the years, number configurations have changed. Now all the new plates have three letters and four numbers. The state already went through the A, B, C, D, and E phases. “F’ is on line and may be for some time.

Commercial plates used to be all numbers (to my memory), now they have numbers and two letters. Rental cars were recognized with a “Z,” I think.

“There are 20 or 30 different classes. That’s why this job is so challenging,” Luskin said. “We’re trying to make improvements all the time. It’s an exciting job, but it’s also a tough job because there’s lots to know on what gets what type of plate. There are more enforcement issues to deal with. Things are constantly changing and keeping us on our toes.”

In January, the state will cease issuing blue and white plates and provide Empire Gold plates.

I guess, if you know somebody in Lockport, Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda, you may be able to get LP, NF or NT plates. I don’t know anybody, but I should have NYP plates for two more years.

The state will run out ‘F,’ whenever they decide they don’t want it anymore. The Department of Motor Vehicles starts with three letters and the numbers to from 1000 to 9999. Then they change letter combination.

“There are countless possibilities,” Luskin said.

In 1901, New York was the first state to register cars. It was a silver, circular tag of 2-inches in diameter. I don’t know how the cops could see it but they can sure spot the Empire gold today and give it a NYSPIN.