Hunting for a parking spot during the Christmas rush is enough to drive anyone crazy, but for disabled people, it’s especially maddening. In many California cities, an open disabled parking spot is about as rare as rain. Take San Francisco, where parking anywhere is hard to find, there are 700 blue disabled parking zones for the 65,000 city residents with disabled parking placards, let alone the thousands of disabled workers and visitors who come to the city each day. This explains why at the War Memorial Opera House downtown, all the blue parking spots are taken hours before curtain time.
For years, the disabled parking permit process has been rife with abuse. This past April, a state audit found that about 35,000 of the roughly 2.9 million disabled parking permits were issued to people who were dead. About 26,000 were given to Californians who were 100 years or older, even though the state only has about 8,000 centenarians. Based on the number of placards issued, one in nine California drivers is disabled. Really?
In a proverbial “government crackdown”, Gov. Brown signed a bill this session that would step up enforcement, require the DMV to conduct quarterly audits of the applications, work with state health boards to make sure the applications are accurate, and limit the number of replacement placards that can be issued.
Sadly, the push to “do something” was driven less by concern for disabled drivers, but by lawmakers and local officials who were miffed about the loss of revenue from metered parking spaces occupied by cars with disabled plates. Indeed, when it comes to Sacramento, you have to follow the money.
When it comes to economic behavior, however, you have to look at incentives.
Elaine Howle, State Auditor, wrote in her report, “The benefits of a disabled parking permit create a significant incentive for misuse.” A crackdown isn’t enough to fix fraud and abuse, especially if that permit’s value is driven ever higher by social engineers who want parking spots to go away by limiting the number of spots per building and who favor bike lanes and mass transportation.
A disabled friend once told me that when he drove into a blue parking spot in his Lexus, another driver started yelling at him. He showed the other driver his cane and the driver immediately apologized. In a rueful comment, he said that many people assume – and so does the government – that disabled people are poor, and conversely, well-off people with nice cars don’t have consciences.
The fact is, disabled people need more parking spots, not necessarily free parking spots. And the solution is to simply have more parking available for everyone.
Unfortunately, because of misguided policies, the attitude in California is that a disabled placard is like a “free parking” pass for the entire state, writes a blogger for an ADA compliance site.
The last thing we want is to allow government to turn California drivers into parking Scrooges.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.