SF considering eliminating free disabled parking

January 10, 2012 8:15:32 PM PST
People who get caught misusing a disability parking placard can expect to pay a $1,000 fine. It's steep, but drivers in San Francisco are taking the risk anyway. Now, officials are considering a crackdown on that parking abuse that some say goes too far.

In the crowded streets of Chinatown, where cars park bumper to bumper, it's common, almost expected, to see one, two, three or more cars in a row with blue disability placards hanging in the windshield. Many belong to people with genuine disabilities, but the city's parking authority says not all of them do.

"People do use these disabled placards fraudulently, and they misuse them constantly," SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said.

Whether the placard belongs to a relative or was prescribed by an unscrupulous doctor, the reason for the abuse is simple ? a disability placard lets people park for free all day long.

It's a bounty so tempting, even the $1,000 fine for getting caught won't deter some scofflaws.

So as the city mulls over how to curb the problem, one option on the table is taking away free parking from disabled drivers so there's no more incentive to cheat.

"Everything is on the table at this point, and it's too early to say what is and what isn't," Rose said.

In order to charge drivers with a disability placard for meter parking, local authorities would actually have to lobby for a change in state law. And when you start talking about taking away rights from people with disabilities, it becomes a hot button issue.

"People with disabilities who tend to be at the lower socioeconomic brackets would have a higher burden to be able to get around the city," Mayor's Office on Disabilities spokesperson Susan Mizner said.

Mizner says wheelchair users in particular often drive because they have trouble getting on and off buses.

On whether they should have to pay like everyone else, Metropolitan Transportation Commissioner David Campos hasn't ruled it out.

"I think it should be part of the discussion; I personally am not convinced that it's the right way to go, but I do think it's important for us to talk about it," Campos said.

But, Mizner points out San Francisco has few reserved spots for those with disabilities.

"Then why have the placard? What good does it do you?" Mizner asked.