Alameda is attempting to increase revenue and influence drivers’ parking behavior by changing its parking fines and fees. State law allowing people with disability placards free parking for unlimited periods undermines that effort.
To encourage use of the civic center garage, the city increased the cost for curb parking. To manage parking demands and increase revenue, it set fines ranging from $38 to $75 for common parking infractions. The fine for illegal handicap parking is $335, but most of this goes to the state, which manages disability placards through the DMV.
Providing dedicated disabled parking spaces is a federal law. Free parking on publicly owned streets and garages for those with placards is allowed by a state law that originated in 1972 (13 years after California’s first disabled parking law and 20 years before the federal Americans with Disabilities Act). California is one of only a few states to offer such free parking for those with disability placards.
While we can all embrace accommodating the disabled with preferred parking locations, free metered parking does not assure any advantage in parking closer to one’s destination because everyone, disabled or not, is competing for the same spots. All it does is remove a driver’s worry about feeding an expired meter and lessen the revenue our city government gets from parking fees.
With rising fees and fines and a heavy demand for spots, the well-intentioned disability placard law creates a financial incentive for misuse, overuse, and even fraud. According to 2009 data, one out of ten California drivers owns a valid disability placard, and the number is steadily increasing. Placards appear too easy to obtain, and state law weakens the ability of local planners to manage parking through pricing in high demand areas where turnover is desired.
Other states are dealing with this dilemma in a variety of ways. Some have increased the number of disabled spaces with meters or have granted one hour of expired time to placard holders. In others, pay station meters allow placard holders to pay for extended time limits. Vehicle sensors like FastTrak deduct payments. Some advocate regulating on-street parking only by time limits for all users.
To help cities manage street parking effectively despite the growing number of drivers with placards, our state Legislature should revise the placard law to allow local jurisdictions flexibility in managing their own affairs by being able to set hourly limits or require payment from those with placards. Doing so would increase city revenue, decrease placard abuse and fraud, increase parking turnover which would help the next disabled person find a parking place, and ensure greater availability of curb parking for everyone.
Originally published in the Alameda Sun.
See also SF Examiner: Use of disabled-parking placards spurs concerns in San Francisco