Parking scofflaws gaming DMV

Faced with the prospect of a four-figure fine, motorists will probably think twice about illegally using a disabled parking placard in San Francisco — unless they know how to game the system.

But to the chagrin of city officials, drivers can actually clear that $1,000-plus citation by ponying up just enough cash to buy a large pizza, due to a processing glitch at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In 2010, new statewide legislation went into effect that allowed for greatly increased citation amounts for disabled placard violations, often ramping up the fines to more than $1,000. Last year, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages parking in The City, incorporated those new fines into its budget.

Theoretically, motorists with $1,000 worth of outstanding violations would not be able to renew their licenses until they paid the fine, with the proceeds benefiting local entities such as the transit agency. However, the DMV’s antiquated online logging system only allows for the entry of three-digit numbers.

As a result, motorists with a $1,030 fine can pay $31 and reduce their citations down to three figures, thus freeing up their holds and allowing their licenses to be renewed.

Every time a motorist is able to clear his or her record without paying the full fine, the cash-strapped San Francisco transit agency loses out on hundreds of dollars. Last year, there were 250 fines exceeding $1,000. The transit agency is still determining an exact amount, according to spokesman Paul Rose, but it’s likely the glitch resulted in thousands of dollars in lost revenue last year.

To address the DMV’s shortcomings, the transit agency approved a motion Tuesday to cap all disabled placard violations at $999, hoping to finally cash in on the full amount of the fine. The initiative was necessary since the DMV has no plans to immediately upgrade its logging software.

Bob Planthold, a disability activist in San Francisco, said the transit agency was forced to take a backward approach — lowering fines — to address the issue because of the DMV’s unresponsiveness.

“The fine was put at such a high level that … no one would ever want to do it again,” Planthold said. “The DMV’s system is allowing people to circumvent that, so no one is learning the intended lesson and that’s hurting the disabled residents in San Francisco who actually need those parking spaces.”

Planthold said lowering the fine is outrageous, and the transit agency never informed the Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee, a group formed specifically to reform rules for disabled placards. He noted that the motion was passed on the board of directors’ consent agenda, a docket usually filled with routine administrative items that do not illicit much public conversation.

Rose said the motion passed Tuesday was only a temporary fix. The DMV is working with San Francisco on both a temporary solution and a long-term answer for its software shortcomings, according to DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez. She also said this was the first time the DMV had heard about the issue.

Former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma authored the 2010 legislation that increased fines for disabled parking violations, which were previously just $100. Ma did not respond to calls for comment.

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