SFMTA Board Greenlights Push to End Free Disabled Placard Parking

The SFMTA and the Mayor’s Office on Disability produced this video explaining why free parking for disabled placard holders is bad policy.
Looking to end the dysfunction caused by California’s failed policy of giving free parking to disabled placard holders, the SFMTA Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday giving agency staff the green light to pursue state legislation that would allow local jurisdictions to charge placard holders at meters.

The policy change has been recommended by a committee comprised mostly of disability advocates that was 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. Consequently, abuse of placards by non-disabled drivers is rampant.

California is one of only 15 states to exempt disabled parking placard holders from having to pay at the meter. Pursuing a change in that law is one of six recommendations made by the SFMTA’s Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee, but it’s the only one that the SFMTA can’t implement without approval from the state legislature. It’s currently unknown which state assembly member or senator might introduce a bill.

Bob Planthold, a senior and disability advocate who served on the SFMTA’s committee and initially opposed charging placard holders for parking at meters, pointed out that the 35 states that already do so include Florida and Arizona. “A lot of people retire and move to those states,” he said. “Those states are not having people move away because they require people to pay at the meters.”

“The placard is supposed to increase parking access for us,” he added. “The payment exemption reduces that.”

Carla Johnson, interim director of the Mayor’s Office of Disability, said extensive research from other cities has shown that to effectively make more convenient parking spaces available for disabled drivers, a set of changes — including a substantial increase in disabled-reserved blue zones and enforcement of placard abuse — must be implemented. Ending exemptions from meter payment, she said, is a key part of that.

Although the committee initially planned to seek an endorsement by the Board of Supervisors before pushing for a change in state law, Johnson said the new plan is to pursue the state legislation first. That would allow the supervisors, which would then have the state’s blessing to end the meter payment exemptions within the city, to approve the change. The soonest that such a change state law could go into effect is 2015, she said.

With disability advocates issuing the call for an end to free parking — normally a hot-button issue that can be expected to rouse fierce political resistance — the policy change appears to have very few detractors in the city. The policy change was even endorsed by the SF Chamber of Commerce.

In the above video produced by the SFMTA and the Mayor’s Office on Disability, Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, said, “I had a neighbor once offer me 400 bucks to use my placard while he drives into the city.”

“It is seen as a way to obtain free parking,” she said.

Here are the six policy recommendations from the SFMTA’s Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee [PDF]:

1. Increase blue zones
2. Improve enforcement of placard misuse
3. Increase oversight of placard approvals
4. Remove the meter payment exemption
5. Direct revenue to accessibility improvements
6. Establish reasonable time limits


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