California is just one of many states dealing with a massive “disabled placard” abuse epidemic involving metered street parking.
In 1972, California began exempting disabled people from having to pay meter fees and honor posted time restrictions for parking. The policy was meant to reduce transportation barriers for people with disabilities, but it also created a strong incentive for able-bodied people to illegally use disabled placards.
This worked great for many years, but over the last ten years the level of “fraudulent use” of blue placards has risen to the point that the truly disabled with severe disabilities’ are being denied parking.
To combat the widespread problem of placard fraud, many urban planning experts are proposing to reform California law so that disabled people will have to pay for metered parking. Their hope is that once parking is no longer free, the incentive to steal or fraudulently use a disabled placard will disappear.
While some might find such a proposal insensitive, experts believe it will generate a lot of revenue for cities, cut down on traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions (because motorists won’t have to circle city blocks in search of parking spaces), and — if enacted well— benefit low-income people with disabilities.
In the Bay Area, the number of disabled parking placards has skyrocketed over the past ten years by more than 100 percent. Many of the recipients of placards aren’t necessarily disabled. Temporary placards can be issued for reasons such as a sprained ankle. The increase in the number of disabled parking permits has also far out paced the growth of the overall population, which has increased by just 5 percent.
In 2010, Oakland officials estimated that placard abuse cost the city at least $150,000 a year in lost parking revenue, although the true amount is difficult to gauge. In response, the city increased the maximum penalty to $1,000 for disabled parking fraud, and Oakland Police Department (OPD) assigned two police officers to investigate the problem.
I believe the best solution is to require motorists with disabled placards to pay for parking. Those with severe disabilities or permanent wheelchair use will be exempt and can be given a unique placard.
This can be done in a way that doesn’t just benefit the city, motorists, retailers, and the environment. A good policy would also provide more easily accessible parking for people with severe disabilities. I believe instead of having a fee exemption, cities should increase the amount of disabled parking zones, and then charge meter fees for their use. Parking time limitations could be extended for people with serious disabilities, as it can be difficult for them to return to their vehicles or get around quickly.
Los Angeles has been experiencing widespread abuse of handicapped placards for years. The attitude of most people in California is that a disabled placard is like a “free parking” pass for the entire state. A student at a SoCal university completed his Masters thesis on placard abuse in downtown L.A. He surveyed one block on Flower Street where there are 14-metered parking spaces. Most of the spaces were filled most of the time with cars that had disabled placards. For five hours of the day, cars with disabled placards occupied all fourteen spaces.
Although the meter rate was $4 an hour, the meters earned only 32¢ an hour in collections because most of the time cars that paid nothing occupied the meters.
Maybe we should look at the success of other large cities that have changed their policies and have seen positive results …
As of July 1st, 2014, the city of Portland, Oregon, ended free parking for disabled drivers. The new law allows exceptions for severely disabled drivers, including actual wheelchair users, to continue to park for free. Drivers with basic disabled placards are still allowed to park for triple the posted time limit, but they must pay.
The positive results of this change are being reported by parking enforcement personnel as well as small business owners stating, “There is a lot of parking for disabled now and the abuse has declined tremendously”.
On the east coast, the state of Michigan also abolished free handicap placard parking, and as a result, the placard applications went from 500,000 to 10,000 that year.
Whatever the state of California finally decides to do with this issue, it must be done in such a way that the truly disabled are protected and allowed ample on street metered parking.
Everyone wants to park, shop, dine and conduct business of some nature, but with such wide spread “fraud” taking place, it makes it virtually impossible for the average person to do so.
Remove the incentive and reduce the fraud!