“Disabled placard abuse is both despicable and ubiquitous”

With that line, Don Shoup sums up a major issue concerning both on and off street parking. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, the Professor notes that two states, Illinois and Michigan have had the political will to do something about the problem, to stunning results.

In Michigan, the state had issued 500,000 disabled placards before the new law, only 10,000 after.

Michigan, for example, adopted a two-tier system that takes into account different levels of disability. Drivers with severe disabilities receive special placards that allow them to park free at meters. Drivers with less severe disabilities receive ordinary placards and must pay at meters.

By taking away the monetary benefit, ie those with disabled placards can park free anywhere, the desire to cheat goes away.

The problem is that for market based on street pricing and the resulting reduction in cruising related congestion to work, everyone needs to be treated the same. If half the people in a given area have disabled placards, and most of them are illegal, then the market cannot work.

In Alexandra, VA, police interviewed people with handicapped placards and found that 90% were illegal. With statistics like this, the disabled driver program simply no longer works. The truly disabled cannot find spaces that are reserved for them, and parking revenues are lowered by as much as 25% by cheaters.

Shoup continues that innovative programs like SFPark and LA Express Park, which are experimenting with demand and market rate pricing have skewed results when so many spaces are taken by cars with illegal disabled placards.The jury is out as to whether these programs will work as advertised, however they will not if they are required to play on a tilted field.

There are a number of ways to provide the disabled with access without making it ‘free’ to all.

  • A two tiered program where those with major disabilities are free but others can park in disabled spaces but must pay for their parking
  • Pay by phone so the disabled can more easily pay, and remove the surcharge for disabled.
  • Programs that require disabled to pay, but allow them to park as long as they like, removing the time limits.

In the end it is less of a technical and legal issue and more of a moral one. Those of us who need more time and space to go about their daily lives should get it and those who abuse the rules need to be pilloried in the public square. When you abuse a disabled permit, you are taking space from someone who is, in the face of personal hardship, attempting to live normal, productive lives. These citizens should be helped, not abused.


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5 Responses to “Disabled placard abuse is both despicable and ubiquitous”

  1. CJD says:

    JVH- Here in PA we require a meter payment but the grace period is 60 minutes, by state statute, before we can issue an expired meter violation to a HC tag or placard.

    I am curious…how would you determine who the disabled are to waive the fee for pay by cell?

  2. John Van Horn says:

    The pay by cell provider would have to have a way of identifying disabled when they signed up (a certificate number or whatever). Then the fee would be waved when they paid — the City would then have to deal with paying the provider or whatever

  3. Brandy Stanley says:

    Nice idea, but giving the pay by cell provider a placard number doesn’t help the fraud issue. I could give them a thousand placard numbers right now (including deceased relatives) and since I’m not required to show ID over the phone, I just got a free pass!

    Plus, I’m about 100% sure no state DMV would allow a private company access to their placard/plate database. We have enough trouble as municipalities, and disability entitlements are NOT a part of the national database available to law enforcement. Each state keeps its own records independent of this system.

    Everyone should pay!

  4. Gorm Carlsen says:

    In Norway, the basic idea with free parking for disabled card holders was the difficulties disabled people often face moving to, – and operate the parking meters and P&D- machines.
    We have identical discussions about this, and the conclusion is that i.e. paying by cell-phone will help overcome their problem with paying on parking meters /P&D-machines, so disabled card holders will probably have to pay for their parking in the future. So the idea is not how not to pay by cell phone, but how they can pay in comfort from the seat of their car, not beeing discriminated by the “system” itself.

  5. Donald Shoup says:

    Here is an account of Michigan’s two-tier placard program:

    “The State of Michigan has implemented a change in law, allowing only those individuals in a wheelchair or unable to operate street meters to qualify for free metered parking. All other disabled persons would be allowed to park in handicapped spaces in off-street facilities. Prior to the law change, 500,000 disabled parking placards were in circulation, and each holder was allowed to park for free. After enactment of the new law only 10,000 people, or 2 percent of the previous 500,000, were allowed to park for free. The Michigan law gives free parking only to those most in need, requires a doctor’s certification with the application process, and uses a new yellow placard, a clear differentiation from the traditional blue disabled badge.”

    Michigan eliminated almost all placard abuse at meters because only 2 percent of the previous placard holders applied for the new placards that offer free parking at meters. To be eligible for the new free-parking placards, a physician must certify that the patient meets one of four criteria:

    a) The patient cannot insert coins or tokens in a parking meter or cannot accept a ticket from a parking lot machine due to a lack of fine motor control of both hands.
    b) The patient cannot reach above their head to a height of 42 inches from the ground, due to a lack of finger, hand, or upper extremity strength or mobility.
    c) The patient cannot approach a parking meter due to use of a wheelchair or other ambulatory device.
    d) The patient cannot walk more than twenty feet due to an orthopedic, cardiovascular, or lung condition in which the degree of debilitation is so severe that it almost completely impedes the patient’s ability to walk.

    When able-bodied drivers misuse disabled placards as permits to park free at a meter for as long as they want, seriously disabled drivers who really need a convenient curb space cannot find one. The Michigan law thus increases access to curb parking for drivers with serious disabilities by removing the free parking at meters for everyone who can illegally get their hands on a regular placard. Most disabled persons want equal access, not special subsidies.

    Here is the link to Michigan’s application form for disabled placards, with a separate section to apply for the more restrictive placard with free parking privileges:

    Here is the link to the Illinois law:

    And here is the link to a longer article on disabled placard abuse:

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