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Elderly & Disabled

Advocates for the Disabled Say Free Parking for Placard Holders Must End

A panel of disability advocates, the SFMTA, and other entities has recommended that handicap parking placard holders no longer be given free parking at meters.

Photo: SFMTA

As the SF Examiner and the Chronicle reported, the policy recommendation came out of a committee formed to tackle the growing problem of placard abuse, which deprives legitimately disabled drivers of reserved parking spaces close to their destinations, cheats the SFMTA out of revenue, and lets drivers occupy high-demand parking spots all day with no incentive to limit their stay.

"Current disabled parking placard and blue zone policies are failing to increase access for people with disabilities, and reduce parking availability for all drivers," said Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, in a statement.

As we've reported, lifetime free parking for placard holders -- an incentive for abuse -- is enshrined in state law, and repealing it would require a bill to be passed by the state legislature. There's no word yet on which senators or assemblymembers might take up such a bill, but city officials said potential legislation could either call for the free parking repeal statewide or for SF only, and that they hope to pass it by 2015.

Carla Johnson, interim director of the Mayor's Office of Disability, said California is one of only 15 states to have such a law in place. When it was enacted in the 1970s, she said, the limited parking meter technology at the time made payment more physically challenging, and the law was intended to help disabled drivers get around that obstacle. "Back then, we had to use coins, we had to manually turn a dial, we didn't have curb ramps that allowed you to get up onto the sidewalk," said Johnson. "Things have changed since then."

Other cities have seen good results after ending parking meter exemptions for placard holders, she said. In Philadelphia, parking availability in downtown metered spots increased 500 percent once the spaces weren't free for drivers with placards.

"If you look around, there are some neighborhoods that are 50 percent parked with blue placards," said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. "Once you take away some of the incentive that the current policy framework provides, a lot of those parking spaces will be freed up."

Also among the panel's recommendations is the addition of 700 blue zone parking spaces reserved for disabled drivers, of which there are currently 470 in the city, along with time limits on those spaces. Reiskin said the SFMTA currently confiscates about 1,800 parking placards for misuse each year, and that the SFMTA has recently increased the number of parking control officers devoted to monitoring placard use.

Lorenz said she supports increasing enforcement stings on disabled placard abusers because such misuse is "reprehensible."

"When I first came to the table, I was part of the pushback" against charging disabled drivers for parking, she said. "We looked at all of the evidence here in San Francisco, and the best practices from other cities, and [the recommendations] are the best ways to increase accessibility for people with disabilities."

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