Placard cheaters run ‘rampant’

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One out of five disability placard users is likely taking advantage of the parking privilege illegally, despite a call by elected politicians two years ago to fix the “rampant” abuse, according to city officials.

The illegal use of disability placards continues to plague San Francisco, with the most widespread abuse in Chinatown, downtown and Laurel Heights, city officials said. The illegal use is costing The City a great deal of money and taking up sought-after parking spots, officials said.

“I’m convinced there is rampant abuse,” said Susan Mizner, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office on Disability. She said about “one out of five placard users may not be legitimate,” based on statistics from Municipal Transportation Agency sting operations against illegal placard users.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick charged that the MTA, which oversees Muni and the enforcement of parking rules, has “not lifted a finger to do anything.” He said the abuse is reducing available parking, hurting small businesses and taking away revenue from the MTA.

McGoldrick has requested a hearing at a board committee on MTA’s enforcement of disability placards, which will likely occur in September, following the board’s three-week legislative break. The request comes two years after the MTA blamed its poor meter-collection rate on the proliferation of the disability placards and their illegal use.

A 2007 city controller report found cars with placards parked at meter spots account for about $15 million in lost revenue, if the meters were fed.

The MTA said 50,700 disability placards were issued to San Francisco drivers, up from approximately 30,000 placards issued as of 2003.

The placards allow drivers to park for free at parking meters in The City and in time-restricted spots without fear of receiving a citation. Those caught using one illegally are written a $100 citation and the placard is confiscated.

City officials say abuse could include borrowing a disabled family member’s placard, using a stolen placard or renewal of a placard by the DMV even after the recipient has died and fraudulent doctor’s notes.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles issues the placards to drivers with a disability certified by a licensed physician, surgeon, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner or certified midwife.

“We are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars if not, in fact, millions with all these fraudulent disability placards,” McGoldrick said.

MTA spokesman Judson True said the agency is actively enforcing any abuse of illegal holders of disabled placards.

“If it wasn’t for our aggressive enforcement, we’d be losing much more,” he said.

On Monday, The Examiner observed that about 30 percent of the cars parked around Civic Center Plaza — along McAllister, Larkin and Polk streets — displayed a placard, while 17 of 23 cars parked on Fulton Street between the main library and the Asian Art Museum had placards, where meters cost $1 for every 24 minutes. In Chinatown, along one side of Washington Street between Stockton and Waverly streets, eight out of 10 cars parked in metered spaces had disability placards.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

24,000: City parking meters

50,700: Disability placards issued to S.F. drivers

1,093: Placards confiscated in fiscal year 2007-08

22: Percent of meter spaces occupied by cars with placards

Who can certify proof of disability: Physicians, surgeons, physicians’ assistants, nurse practitioners or certified midwives

Sources: MTA, Controller’s Office, DMV

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