Assembly Passes Law Cracking Down on Disability Parking Permit Abuse

Counterfeit.jpgConfiscated counterfeit and altered placards. Photos: Matthew Roth

The fines for illegal use of disability placards and for fabricating fraudulent placards could go as high as $1000 if Assemblymember Fiona Ma’s new bill passes the State Senate and is signed by Governor Schwartzenegger.  The bill, which passed in the Assembly near unanimously at 73-3 on May 18th, will go before the Senate Transportation Committee on June 23rd.

"Between 1997 and 2007, there was a 131 percent increase in the number of disabled placards issued in California, and empirical evidence strongly indicates that there has been a significant increase in misuse and fraud as well," said Assemblymember Ma.  Waiving a printed piece of paper in the air, Ma said she had just been shown a current Craigslist ad selling a disability placard for $250 dollars.

"My bill is going to increase the fines for illegal use of these
placards and allow parking control officers to cite and to fine these
illegal users. The illegal users are not paying parking, this is free
parking. This is something we’re clamping down on."

MTA Chief Nat Ford said his agency had confiscated over 1,000 bogus placards last year and had already confiscated 1,500 this year; he expects the total haul from the agency’s stings to be well over 2,000. There are roughly 52,600 legitimate disabled placards issued by the State DMV to drivers in San Francisco, out of 2 million total statewide. Because the placards are issued at the state level, enforcement is the only direct authority local agencies have to curtail abuse.

"With this current bill, when it passes, we will be able to issue a citation, much the same as we do with fare evasion," said Ford. "Then it’s adjudicated through a civil process instead of a criminal process. As you can imagine, there are bigger issues at it relates to crime and criminal activities versus what could be a civil offense that we could properly fine at a much higher rate, anywhere between $250-1000."

"The idea here is the fine should be the deterrent," he added.

Meisner.jpgParking control officers, including special enforcement unit supervisor Daisy Lucas, Assemblymember Fiona Ma, Director of Mayor Newsom’s Office of Disability Susan Mizner, and MTA Chief Nat Ford.

Susan Mizner, Director of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office on Disability, said the law was meant to improve transit and still provide mobility assistance for the disabled:

San Francisco is a "transit first" city and people who can take public transportation should take public transportation.  For people who can’t use public transport because of disabilities, placards are the most efficient, and for the city the most cost effective, means of them getting to work, to school, to shopping, to meetings, to socialize.  In short, for many people with disabilities, placards are the best means to be able to participate as full members of society.

For over ten years the MTA Enforcement Division has maintained a special parking enforcement unit to seek out and cite those who abuse parking privileges. The unit consists of four teams of two PCOs who have been specially trained in issues associated with disabled parking enforcement, such as understanding that holders of disabled placards may have hidden disabilities. But as division supervisor Daisy Lucas explained, their ability to deter abuse is limited by the current maximum fine of $100 for fraudulent placards and rules limiting their ability to issue multiple citations for abuse.

"If the person does come back to the vehicle and the meter is expired and they have the handicapped placard displayed, we can ask them for verification," said Lucas. "If they don’t have the proper ID, or they tell us they’re using their mother’s or father’s placard, then we only issue them the citation for the meter. We can’t issue any other citation. In that case, we can still confiscate the placard, but we can only issue the one citation."

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by Governor Schwazenegger, municipalities will have the discretion to raise fees to between $250-1,000. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will work with the MTA to adjust the fees for first-time and repeat offenders.  Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who helped publicize the issue at the state level, said those who abuse the placards should be fined substantially.

"I think high is good; I think it’s something people see a lot," he said. "This is something that’s a fraudulent practice and they should be strongly discouraged from committing fraud. I would definitely favor $250 or above and definitely for I think for repeat violators we should go to $1,000.  If somebody were to do this, get caught, then try to do it again, I think they should get hit as heavily as possible."

  • AW

    While the increased fine is a good start, the final solution is simply providing one blue zone per block, but require everyone to pay at a meter (placard or not). This way, the monetary incentive to abuse the placard is gone, and hence the abuse. At the same time, you’ve improved access for the disabled by increasing the number of spaces for them. Problem solved. ADA is about access, not free parking.

  • theo

    I see two ads on Craigslist right now, when searching for “disabled placard” in For Sale.

    Is there a penalty for the people who sell their placards? I don’t want the city to punish handicapped people whose relatives borrow their cars or placards without letting them know, but the penalty for knowingly selling a placard should be revocation plus a substantial fine.

  • SfResident

    Not only is this “free parking” and an abuse of the city municipal services but it also screws over folk who are actually disabled. A relative of mine had a legitimate disability and couldn’t walk for more than about half a block. It was beyond frustrating to try and go places with him only to find that all the disability spots were full-up…

    I say that in addition to fines we take away the drivers license of anybody who abuses a disability permit. Let them know what it’s like to have to depend on other people for *all* of your transit options…

  • Brad

    Someone just printed this article out, taped it to my car with sections highlighted in blue and a hand-written note at the bottom reading, “Your Days Are Numbered, Jackass – ”

    I am legally using my handicapped placard in a green zone which is available to handicapped people. I park in the green when the once handicapped space on the street is already occupied.

    I just wanted it known that I will not be bullied into parking somewhere else just because you don’t like me parking there. I have a legal right to do it.

  • Brad,

    I’m sorry you received such a rude note. I have no problem with people who are truly disabled receiving special parking privileges. This article was about the illegal use of disabled placards and fraudulent placards. I would think genuinely disabled people would be upset about fraudulent and illegal use of the placards as well.

  • Brad

    I was posting in hopes that the person who left the note would see my post and own up to it, but an act as cowardly as writing a note probably means I will never find out who is harassing me.

  • Someone help me understand this.

    Why is being disabled automatically qualify for lower fares and or free meters?

    Is it right to imply that a disability equals an inability to hold a decent job, own a business or have enough success to be able to cover a bus fare or meter?

    This seems to be one assumption when applied to any other class of people would bring justifiable outrage, yet when applied to the disabled no one blinks an eye.

    Shouldn’t one’s inability to pay be based on something other than one’s disability?

    If this post seems to you that I do not understand and or I am ignorant, it is because I am.

    Give me a compelling reason why someone who owns a Mercedes should not pay a parking meter?

    Why if you are a college professor (Stephen Hawking) should you not pay full fare when you ride a bus?

    Is this payback for improprieties of the past?

    Now the question is out there and I’ll bet I’m not the only one asking.

  • For those who use handicap parking permit placards legally and want an end to their frustration of hanging and removing the tag, check out VisorTag at http://www.visortag.com. It is a holder that protects your tag, and clips to the passenger visor. Pull it down when you park, and swing it back up before you drive. It magnetically latch into the metal base on the visor and out of your driving line of sight. It is a must have for disabled drivers that use the hanging tag type.

  • Brad

    to Opnionizmiown:

    The problem isn’t the ability to pay. It’s the inability to get where you need to go and get done what you need to get done in the amount of time limited by the meters. So the time limit is the restrictive part of parking meters, not the price.

    Taking the time limit off the meters for people with handicapped placards means there is no way to penalize those people for overtime use, so there are no parking time limits at all. This includes meters, blue and green zones. Yellow, Red, White and street cleaning limits remain in place for everyone.

  • Brad

    I’d also like to add that this bill makes perfect sense to me. I’ve only had my parking placard checked once in the year I’ve needed one. Maybe it’s because I always park in the same places and they have already associated the car I drive with me. Anyway, “Peace officers” are allowed to check credentials and the bill would allow parking control officers to do the same which makes so much more sense.

    Of course I’m all for checking placards so people like me are able to find places to park but I also want everyone to understand that they need to allow the police to do their job and not to try to do it for them through intimidation and/or harassment.

    If you suspect someone is parking illegally, call the police and they will tell you what to do. You are paying for their services so please use them. Don’t take matters into your own hands because you have no idea where the situation might lead.

  • Gregorio

    If we were truly a transit first city as city officials often like to claim, then maybe after all these years we would have reformed MUNI into a halfway decent agency. If I can walk from Pac Heights to the embarcadero in less time than it takes on a bus, something is seriously wrong (and that’s if the bus actually shows up or stops to pick me up).

  • Brad

    Since this is the only place I can hope the person who is harassing me will see this, I am letting you know that after receiving the dog crap you left on my car I have called the police again. When you are caught, you will be charged to the full extend of the law.

  • I think it is a great that they are cracking down on fake tags. If you legitimately need a handicap permit, you can get one. People who are jsut being lazy are unacceptable.

  • Michael McMillan

    The first part is a reply to comment number 7.

    There are several reasons that people who are disabled get free parking.

    1) The reason that they have the placard in first place is that moving for them is either slow or painful.

    I know one person who is paralyzed. In an ideal case where say she needs to park on the other side of the street, due to street sweeping, getting in the car, then getting out of the car takes 20 minutes. Otherwise she is fairly able bodied.

    2) Parking meters are not accessible.

    I know someone else with no arms who drives, yet age is deteriorating the use of her hips to reach stuff up high, and unfortunately parking meters are now too high for her to reach.

    As for people walking fine or even running with no leg disabilities. I know someone who was born without arms who has a placard, now she has hip problems, but she has had a placard for many years. One of the reasons that she gave to having the placard was that it was very difficult to transport things to the car from wherever. She would either need to take a number of small trips to carry what anyone else could take in one.

    It is hard enough for people who are disabled to attempt to live a regular life, yet most of them do so. The government does not need to impose artificial limits to make a difficult situation even more difficult.

    -Michael

  • John

    I know one person that acutally has a license plate that is considered “disabled”. What really aggrevates me she isn’t disabled, she is about to go to gym, wash her car, ride a bike and has no physical disability. This person should not have a disabled license plate, who do I report her to? She even belongs to an athletic club excercies for at least one hour, and has obviously conned one doctor.

  • nancy

    I pick up a little guy from school and he has cerebral palsy. I work for the state home health. When I pick him up the safest place for me to get him is if I park in the handicap spots at the school. If I was to drive in the receiving line to get him I would stop traffic and would be asked to move. You are not allowed to get out of your car and I would need to do that to help him to the car. If I were to park in a regular spot I would be trapped in by other vehicles and he wouldn’t fit with his chair or walker. Walking to a spot that is further away could be dangerous with all the moving vehicles and he is about 3 and half feet tall so most cars wouldn’t even see him. Its also hard for him to walk with his walker on the graveled ground and I worry he could fall and get hurt. I was approached by a police officer doing his job and was told I would get a ticket if he found me in that spot again. Understood. Next to where I park are 5 other spots with older people waiting to pick up a child, Not handy-caped as far as I can tell they walk themselves to the car. I ask the officer how come they were allowed to park in the spots and he said because they have a sign.
    I don’t have a handy cap and I can walk blocks to pick up this little guy but how do I get him back? He wouldn’t make it!  My question is How do I get some kind of pass to use this spot during the school year so I can pick him up safely? How come I am getting a ticket when I am legitimately using the spot for what it was designed for yet the people a sign don’t Something is wrong here. Nancy   

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