Abuse of disabled placards' free parking persists
Thousands of cars park round AT&T Park on game day allowing dozens of disabled parking permits to be used on a number of limited handicapped spaces Wednesday June 27, 2012 at AT&T Park in San Francisco Calif. Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle
Most Bay Area residents already know the region's worst-kept parking secret: A flimsy plastic rectangle is the key to unlimited free parking.
A disabled parking placard hanging in a car means the driver doesn't have to feed the meter or follow time limits in any valid curbside parking spot.
It's illegal to use a disabled parking placard unless someone in the car has a placard registered to their name for a legitimate disability. But the risks are so low and the rewards so high that an unknown number of residents routinely flout the law.
While the number of issued placards continues to rise, enforcement of the parking laws has not, Chronicle Watch has found.
"You're down by the ballpark, and it's game time. Here come three people traipsing back in Giants regalia, and they pop in the car (with the placard) and off they go," said Capt. Al Casciato, head of San Francisco police's traffic company, which is overseen by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. "It's pretty obvious."
Many people get away with it because violators can only be caught when they're seen leaving or returning to their cars. Enforcement is handled by undercover parking control officers with the SFMTA who rely on neighbors calling in tips on repeat offenders.
"To go out and hunt is really difficult," Casciato said.
A handicapped placard hangs from the rear view mirror of a car parked outside AT&T Park. Thousands of Cars Park round the Giants stadium on game day allowing dozens of disabled parking permits to be used on a number of limited handicapped spaces Wednesday June 27, 2012 at AT&T Park in San Francisco Calif. Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle
Most offenders fall into one of two categories. Some use placards that aren't theirs by, for example, borrowing grandma's. Others might fake or exaggerate an injury to convince a chiropractor or doctor to sign off on the necessary documents.
Two agencies oversee issuing and proper use of the placards. The state Department of Motor Vehicles issues them, and the MTA is tasked with making sure they're used by the right people.
At the state level, too many placards are being issued for too lenient reasons, local officials say.
The number of permanent disabled parking placards in San Francisco almost doubled between 2001 and 2011, jumping from 27,000 to almost 51,000. The same doubling trend took place on a state level.
Enforcement hasn't kept up with the rapidly growing number of placards.
More than 2,000 placards are confiscated each year in San Francisco, and that number stays about the same year to year, said MTA spokesman Paul Rose.
Some neighbors think that if the financial incentive to fudge disabled parking weren't so attractive, it wouldn't be such a big problem.
Pete Loya, 66, who lives near AT&T Park, said on game days he sees streets full of metered parking where more than half the cars have disabled parking placards hanging from their rearview mirrors, which means they don't have to pay to park.
"I suspect every time there's an increase in parking rates, the number of people who are disabled goes up," Loya said.
Neighbors who see or suspect disabled parking placard abuse in San Francisco should call 311 to report problem areas. In other cities, residents should call their police departments.
What's not working
Issue: Disabled parking placards allow drivers to park for free as long as they want in most of San Francisco's curbside spots. The placards sometimes end up in the hands of people who don't have a legitimate disability but want the free parking.
What's been done: A police task force focuses on placard abuse, but the number of placards is rising and enforcement hasn't kept up.
Who's responsible: Ed Reiskin, head of the Municipal Transportation Agency, (415) 701-4730, email@example.com.