|Disabled Parking Placards:
The Third Rail of California Street Parking Reform
The ultimate taboo subject of California transportation policy is the well-intentioned but financially devastating impact of free disabled parking. Anyone cruising for street parking knows that one significant factor in availability is the law that vehicles with disabled tags can park virtually anywhere, all day, for free. And they do, block after block, in downtowns across the state. Although recent concern has been focused on the problem of illegal placards, that does not address the impact of the approximately 2.3 million California drivers with a legitimate one.
Previous California laws facilitated access for disabled drivers in designated zones, but the crucial change took place in 1972 when it was adjusted to allow free parking at any public parking spot. Why? According to UCLA researcher Jonathan Andrew Williams, the sponsor of the bill (District 5 Democratic Assemblymember John Dunlap) put it forward to address the challenges some disabled drivers experienced in feeding parking meters. The purpose was physical ability to handle coins, not an entitlement. There is no evidence that disabled drivers are any poorer than able-bodied ones, and their parking need not be subsidized. Yet, as a consequence of current law, the legitimate problem of disabled parking access has been overwhelmed by incentives for abuse - which hurts all drivers, disabled or not.
current loss of municipal revenue and general
citizen parking require revisiting existing law. Unfortunately, the
subject has been avoided because of perceived political fallout. Hard
data about the costs and consequences of free disabled parking have
only recently being gathered and solutions suggested. The SFMTA has
taken great leadership in proposing alternatives, now politicians need
to show leadership of their own.
New technologies and systems make it possible to pay for parking with the tap of a credit card or a call from a phone. Sane public transportation policy requires changes to California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 22511.5.
Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley
NEW - See
AB 2602 below
DMV law and policies
California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 22511.5 Disabled Parking
Authorized Parking Zones
Disabled Person Parking
Placard or License Plates
authority may require a disabled person or disabled veteran to pay
parking meter fees,
and may prohibit a disabled person or disabled veteran from parking for
a period that exceeds the length of time permitted for that parking
zone, pursuant to an ordinance or resolution adopted by the
local authority at an open meeting, if all of the following requirements
"During the test of real-time directed enforcement in Fisherman’s Wharf in 2013, at least 48% of spaces occupied but not paid were cars displaying placards."
"Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee Recommendations Report"
Updated January 7, 2014, produced by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Full report available here.
Also see earlier report, also with excellent research and analysis:
"Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee Policy options evaluation February 19, 2013" link here.
This is significant. The SFMTA's Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee spent two months looking at the accessible parking practices in eleven North American cities, and struggled with understanding the scope of the problem in San Francisco and proposing solutions.
Among their findings:
"San Francisco now has twice as many disabled parking placards as metered spaces..."
"A 2008 SFMTA survey found that 45 percent of parking meters were occupied by cars displaying placards in the downtown study area. Of the vehicles using placards, 57 percent were registered outside of San Francisco."
"...Only 16 percent of people with disabilities are both low income and have a vehicle available in their households, and two percent of low- income people with disabilities commute by automobile."
Price Doesn’t Matter if You Don’t Have to Pay: Legal
Exemption as an Obstacle to Market-Priced Parking"
"Meter payment exemption for disabled placard holders as a
barrier to managing curb parking"
"Solving Disability Placard Abuse, Is There
a Technological Solution?"
"Will disabled placard abuse undermine Sacramento city parking plan?"
The Sacramento Bee, March 26, 2016
“Unlimited use of the placards is going to blow this out of the water,” Councilman Larry Carr predicted Tuesday. “The system will not work if people can use those placards and park anywhere at a meter all day and all night.”
I was happy to see a letter about Oakland's lack of motorcycle/scooter parking. I commute to this fair city every work day on a motorcycle. Compared to other neighboring cities such as Berkeley or San Francisco, Oakland has the worst two-wheel parking, by far. Instead of encouraging these compact and fuel-efficient vehicles, Oakland makes it impossible to park them legally.
Urban motorcycle parking involves a gray area of law and enforcement. Under most circumstances, one does not get a ticket for simply violating a time restriction when parked between cars if the adjacent meters are paid. This could charitably be considered a progressive policy of encouraging infill parking. But with the rampant proliferation of disabled placards, almost no downtown meters are paid for, so tickets go to the only target — motorcycles. And I've seen scores of curbs that were too small for car parking, previously full of bikes, now painted red.
It's time for Oakland to step up and help, not persecute, motorcycles and scooters.
-Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley
DMV cracks down on misuse of disability parking placards," LA
"Downtown Drivers Abusing Handicap Placards
for Free Parking," NBC
7 San Diego, 5/18/2015
Online headline: "How paying to park could help disabled and curb placard abuse"
"Bob Planthold, who is disabled, says when he mentions the pay-to-park plan, the reaction is immediate. “They say, 'What kind of Scrooge are you?’” he said. And yet, if they can get everyone to calm down and listen, the proponents think they can make a convincing argument. They know that because it worked with a group of determined skeptics — themselves."
of disabled placards costly for S.F., other drivers," Matier
& Ross column,
"Blocked out" - SF Chronicle editorial
supporting reiew of disabled parking laws, August 20, 2014
"3 in S.F. nabbed in
crackdown on parking placards"
"Our estimates are that we are losing more than $20 million a year from unpaid parking as a result of disabled placards." - S.F. Parking and Traffic spokesman Paul Rose
"They're dead, yet they still get free parking" (note 7/20/2011 similar article below)
C.W. Nevius, S.F. Chronicle, June 24, 2014
"Stunning turn toward charging for disabled parking"
C.W. Nevius, S.F. Chronicle, June 21, 2014
"Some of us were adamant in the beginning that we needed to do rigorous enforcement," Planthold said. "I've changed my mind. Even Carla Johnson, the current head of the mayor's office on disability, came in thinking enforcement. All of us, advocates and disabled, changed our minds." The thinking is simple. Removing free parking means there is no reason to fake a disability.
My Sunday Insight section must have been missing a page - two articles on the challenges of parking and not one mention of the impact of free disabled parking. We must get past the fantasy that it's a problem of illegal placards; even the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency concedes that San Francisco now has twice as many disabled parking placards as metered spaces. A 2008 survey found that 45 percent of parking meters were occupied by cars displaying placards in the downtown study area; 57 percent of those were registered outside of San Francisco.
This is a well-intentioned public policy run amok, and an equitable solution must be found.
-Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley
Letter to East Bay
Express, May 2013
Oakland officials calculated the city's annual cost at $150,000 – it’s way low. Try this math: meters are $2 an hour, times 8 hours, times a conservative 250 work days – that alone adds up to $4,000 for just one spot. Surely Oakland can’t believe that fewer than 38 spaces are going for free! And that does not include revenue from tickets for parking longer than two hours. Of course, real data would be very helpful, but city and parking agencies are reluctant to provide that information.
Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley
"We originally thought increased enforcement would solve the problem," said Ed Reiskin, the city's transportation director and co-chair of the committee.
"The idea of charging didn't feel right," said Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco, who also was on the committee. But she changed her mind after looking at evidence from around the country.
"Cities tightening grip on
disabled parking placards"
"Do Disabled Motorists Need Free Parking?"
"The Case for Eliminating Disabled Parking Placards"
"Placards can bring a
curbside surprise - State DMV cracks down on fraudulent use of disabled
"California DMV keeps sending
out disabled placards - to people who are dead."
Letter to the editor, SF
Chronicle, March 11, 2009:
Regarding "Feed the hungrier meter" (editorial, March 7): The smartest meters in the world will not change the fact that more and more urban drivers are parking all day for free. The proliferation of disabled parking placards, both legitimate and illegal, have decimated city revenue.
Devices such as FasTrak and cell phones can make paying easy and eliminate the burden of regularly feeding a meter. In this period where everyone needs to share the load, it's time to review the law regarding free disabled parking.
-Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley
"More drivers acquiring disabled parking
placards - The DMV issues millions of special permits."
proliferate as more qualify for privilege, more seem to abuse system."
"90,000 handicap cards -- 4
per S.F. parking meter."
return to Docs Populi : page first posted
1/6/2013 | updated 4/22/2021