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Sea of blue disabled placards in many U.S. cities

By Steven Dubois

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 05:08 a.m. HST, Sep 06, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. >> A blue placard dangling from the rear-view mirror is the equivalent of parking gold for drivers in many cities -- they can park for free and for as long as they want. Now there's a gold rush on for them.

And as the number of vehicles displaying a disabled placard has soared with an aging population and loosened eligibility standards, cities are seeing the impact in more congested downtowns and the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.

Now, officials are pushing back, tightening standards for those who can get the placards and making sure that the only people who get the privilege are those who really need it.

"It was astonishing to see car after car after car with the disabled placard," said Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick, who is seeking a solution to the problem in a city with a reputation for bicycling and mass transit but still reliant on the car.

It's common in the city to find blocks in which there are more cars with placards than without. Stroll by a parking meter and you will see the placards through the windshields of both beaters and BMWs.

In the city's annual survey of roughly 9,000 downtown meters, just over 1,000 vehicles had disabled placards in October 2012, a 72 percent increase in five years. In the core area of downtown, a third of the vehicles had placards.

As a result, Portland lost an estimated $2.4 million in meter revenue last year, and the lack of turnover frustrates store owners, deprives the severely disabled of spaces near their destination and forces drivers to circle blocks in search of a spot.

Authorities issued 186 citations for unlawful use of a permit the fiscal year ending June 30, but believe there is more abuse.

Cheaters are tough to catch because the placard is generally valid and the driver, who may be borrowing one, is only at the car for a couple of minutes during the workday.

Experts say the easiest way to stop abuse is to make the disabled pay the meter, especially those not in wheelchairs. Places such as Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., and Arlington County, Va., did so and there was more turnover in the spots.

The Illinois Legislature passed a law that takes effect next year in which free-metered parking will be reserved for only the most severely disabled residents. It was spurred in part by Chicago's decision to privatize its parking meters. As part of the deal, it agreed to reimburse the company for free parking provided to holders of disabled placards. The tab since 2009: $55 million.

"Economically, a free parking pass is a very nice thing to have, and there are always enough people who are a bit unscrupulous when it comes to parking that you can't expect self-restraint," said Donald Shoup, a UCLA urban planning professor and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking."

One of Shoup's former students, Jonathan Williams, researched curbside parking in Los Angeles while getting his master's degree, finding that cars with placards took most spots when the workday began and often didn't leave until it ended.

On one block in the financial district, placards consumed 80 percent of the total meter hours. Though the spaces were occupied 95 percent of the time, meters that charged $4 an hour collected an average of only 28 cents an hour.

California started issuing placards in 1959 to people unable to move without a wheelchair. Within two decades, it was expanded to include people with breathing problems and general mobility problems.

"We looked back from 1990 to 2010, even normalized for population growth, there was a 350 percent increase in the number of placards issued in California," Williams said. "Even if there was no abuse, there are a lot of placards in circulation."

Oregon has issued placards to 354,000 of its 3 million drivers. Those authorized to sign a permit include doctors of medicine, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatrists, optometrists, naturopaths, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Portland's Disabled Parking Task Force asked the Oregon Medical Association in 2010 to remind doctors about the impact of improper placards, and recommended temporary permits instead of ones that can be valid for years until a driver's license expires.

Betty Brislawn, 84, uses a placard because she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A task force member, Brislawn said there are many cheaters, but you can't assume people with internal problems are less worthy of a placard than those in wheelchairs.

"My oxygen level, if I walk fast, will go down to 83 and that means I'm in really dire trouble; I could pass out," she said. "But otherwise I look fine."

Novick doesn't have a placard, though he was born with missing fibula bones and no left hand. The 4-foot-9 commissioner said ensuring open spaces for those with severe mobility problems should be the city's focus.

"Being really short, I would kind of like it if grocery stores had tongs you could use to take things off the top shelf," he joked. "That would be a good accommodation, but I still think I should have to pay for the groceries."

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frontman wrote:
Hawaii needs to eliminate ALL hanging placards. A car needs a permanent registered license plate to disclose disability. When you see teens hang a placard and run from the car there is something wrong with this picture.
on September 6,2013 | 03:45AM
syhud wrote:
I always find it that the majority of disabled people here in Hawaii drive either expensive SUVs and raised tricked out pickups. Just a coincidence?
on September 6,2013 | 04:08AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Borrowed the kids SUV. Mom and Dad are broke to own a car.
on September 6,2013 | 06:14AM
syhud wrote:
I think it's the other around. Kids are using grandma and grandpa's placard to get prime parking stalls. Don't want to scratch or ding that expensive SUV or tricked out pickup!
on September 6,2013 | 03:34PM
psimmons wrote:
I agree with you and would go one step further. Only wheelchair-bound persons would qualify. Breathing problems, heart attacks, trouble walking, etc, are common effects of aging. The reason why the spaces are wide with cross-hatches is to accommodate wheelchairs, not canes.
on September 6,2013 | 08:51AM
Ronin006 wrote:
License plates with disabled logos will not stop the parking abuse because the person to whom the license is issued may not always be in the vehicle. The best way to stop abuse is to issue disabled placards contain the names and photos of the person to whom they are issued. While this will not completely stop parking abuse, a driver is less likely to park in a disabled parking space if the disabled person is not in the vehicle. It also would help police to cite violators.
on September 6,2013 | 10:19AM
kiragirl wrote:
Eliminate free parking as many are not financially disabled.
on September 6,2013 | 04:03AM
serious wrote:
on September 6,2013 | 04:08AM
Anonymous wrote:
IRT kira, agreed. Park in that space near your destination, then pay the meter! Lucky you get prime parking!
on September 6,2013 | 04:44AM
mikethenovice wrote:
The disabled don't work, don't have much money or income. Has a lot of doctor's bill. That's why parking is at a no cost for the handicapped.
on September 6,2013 | 06:13AM
kiragirl wrote:
Years ago, a lawsuit was filed against the city because of the charges to obtain a disable placard. The city's reasoning was because of free parking. The city adjusted the fees to obtain a placard but free parking still remained. If anyone, not only the disabled, are not employed or receiving income, then they too should receive free parking according to you?
on September 6,2013 | 06:28AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Lock your car. Kids are stealing these placards just to be able to park close.
on September 6,2013 | 06:07AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Only problem with parking close to the store's entrance door is that it's hard to back up with all the cars and foot traffic moving behind you.
on September 6,2013 | 06:09AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Hawaii used to give two disable cards. Who can drive two cars at the same time?
on September 6,2013 | 06:10AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Can't stand when everyone who walks by wants to play policeman and judge if the car with the placard qualifies to park in the blue stall?
on September 6,2013 | 06:12AM
localguy wrote:
Time to level the playing field. State can set income limits for a free parking pass, must bring in state and federal tax forms for past two years, applies to family income, not person with pass. Everyone else to include EV owners no longer get free charging station access, parking, or HOV lane access. And EV owners will be charged a Road Maintenance tax of about $.25 per mile driven. Regular people will no longer subsidize these leaches on society. Hmm, reminds me of the "Rate Suckers" in the Progressive TV commercials. As a Star Trek fan I would call them "Cling Ons" Ohhhh, bad pun.
on September 6,2013 | 06:58AM
serious wrote:
It's just like the "service" dogs. Can't be enforced---discrimination!!!
on September 6,2013 | 08:11AM
digger wrote:
i have major physical respiratory problems and have a placard. i've no endurance although you would not know that from looking at me. if you hit me you would probably kill me. i also drive a rather nice car. that said, my experience is that the stalls in a vast number of cases are misused. i've observed many young people using them. my sense is that the kids are using a non-expired placard borrowed from someone, or, from someone who may have passed. yet, it's not my call. it can be enforced. along with my placard is a blue card i'm required to carry at all times to prove to law enforcement that i am indeed the proper user of the placard. my failure to show law enforcement my blue identity card will result in a ticket . perhaps we should direct some effort to ascertaining the legitimacy of the user through the presentation to law enforcement of the required handicapped blue identity card. if your concern is the type of car driven, or my finances, you're vastly ignorant. please be somewhat careful. in playing doctor. you may yourself in a similar position someday. thanks for listening.
on September 6,2013 | 10:29AM
I too have a blue placard and a DMV card, the size of my drivers license, stating that I am the person to whom the placard was issued. I must show it to a law enforcement person if he/she questions my parking in a handicapped only spot. If someone borrows my car and uses my placard to park, and I am not a passenger, they are liable for a summons and fine.
on September 6,2013 | 05:16PM
cojef wrote:
The handicap placard is issued only to an individual who has mobility medical conditions or problems. By far, seniors qualify for the handicap parking privileges the most. Thus, the majority are not part of the work force and therefore do not park for endless hours in the business districts of any city. Yet, as the article indicate handicap cars are parked in these situations, without feeding the meters. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the young are abusing the the system and avoiding feeding the meters. Personally, I have a handicap license plates and my mileage reported to the insurance periodically indicate that the auto is not used often. In fact our trip this morning was to the Kaiser clinic for medical reasons. Others uses would be to the grocery store or restaurants. Try to park in the handicap provided space as much as possible. Yes, the handicap placards use is being abused by healthy individuals. Especially at the downtown parking meter sites. LA city has periodic police sweeps at many downtown areas, especially near high-rise office buildings.
on September 6,2013 | 10:35AM
fairgame947 wrote:
Helped push my Mom who was wheelchair bound (paralyzed on entire left side) for nine years. Those handicap spaces meant the world to us so we could unload her with extra space on the side, etc. Now that she has passed away, I know what it means to others who truly deserve a space and nowadays cannot find one due to the use by many who don't deserve. Let's not even go to the spaces at Aloha Stadium who get to park near the gates and don't have a disabled person with them. But please don't do away with the privilege - it's so needed for the truly deserving!
on September 6,2013 | 11:23AM
Newsizs wrote:
Disabled does not mean poor. I know qualified placard holders who are grateful for the nearby parking, have the ability to pay for parking and are willing to pay their fair share. Why not make everyone pay for parking, but provide financial assistance to those who need it by some other way?
on September 6,2013 | 01:36PM
Waikele wrote:
Handicapp placard users are required to possess corresponding blue ID card identifying placard number, name, DOB, height/weight, gender, expiration date. If driver can't produce this blue ID card, they are violating and should not have possession of parking placard. Also, many drivers keep placard on rear review mirror even while driving, placard is a parking privilege, not driving privilege. Instructions included when receiving a handicapp placard state do not display while driving.
on September 6,2013 | 02:02PM
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