San Francisco looks at charging for disabled placard use at meters

Disabled motorists are nervous that they may soon have to pay for metered parking spots, after a renewed push by city officials to reform The City’s disabled parking rules.

Currently, some 50,742 motorists in San Francisco possess disabled parking placards — passes that allow their owners to park for free without a time limit at any metered parking space.

Although changing that arrangement would require state legislation, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recently approached regional officials about lobbying for reform of California’s disabled parking rules.

As a result, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which sets long-term transportation policies for the Bay Area, has included disabled parking reform among its legislative initiatives.

Dorene Giacopini, a disabled activist and member of the MTC, said there needs to be placard reform in San Francisco — but the changes should address fraud, not parking meters.

“The concept has been out there before of charging disabled motorists for metered parking,” Giacopini said. “I’m very concerned that San Francisco is going to address this issue on the backs of the people who actually need the accommodation.”

Giacopini said many disabled motorists could have difficulty reaching the meters to pay for their parking, particularly if there are no nearby curb cuts for sidewalk access. Disabled motorists also have high unemployment rates, so metered parking could impose a financial burden.

Disability activist Naomi Armenta, who is a member of the MTC’s Policy Advisory Council, echoed Giacopini’s concerns. Like Giacopini, she said officials should crack down on placard abuse, and not on metered parking.

On an average day, 14 percent of San Francisco’s parking meters are occupied by cars with disabled placards. The SFMTA recently pushed for stiffer penalties for placard abuse — citations now cost $935 — and the agency frequently runs sting operations to nail down dishonest motorists.

To qualify for the pass, residents must submit a written note — which could come from a physician, surgeon, chiropractor, nurse practitioner or midwife — detailing their disability. The passes are free.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the agency’s push for placard reform is about making parking easier for all city residents. However, he could not rule out the possibility of meter enforcement being pursued in the future.

“This is part of our efforts to make parking in San Francisco more efficient overall,” Rose said. “We’re looking into disabled parking reform as a way to improve access to drivers with disabilities. It’s too early to provide specific details, but we’re working with all stakeholders on any efforts we might pursue.”

Coveted spaces

21,005 Disabled parking placards in San Francisco in 1994
50,742 Disabled parking placards in San Francisco now
142 Percentage increase over that time
423,024 Registered cars in San Francisco in 1994
470,349 Registered cars in San Francisco now
11 Percentage increase over that time
$0 Cost of disabled parking placard
$935 Fine for disabled parking placard abuse

Sources: DMV, SFMTA

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