Portland Tackled Disabled Parking Placard Abuse, and It’s Working

Disabled parking placards used to be ubiquitous in Portland. Until very recently, the city provided unlimited free street parking to placard holders, estimated at a $2,000 annual value. Many cars bearing these placards would remain in prime spots for weeks or months without moving.

New rules on disabled parking in Portland have made parking much easier. Photo: Wikipedia
New rules on disabled parking in Portland have kept scammers from gaming the system. Photo: Wikipedia

In some parts of the city, cars with placards would occupy 20 percent or more of the on-street parking. This generates traffic by causing other drivers to cruise for spots, and it makes curbside meter management less effective. Putting the right price on parking is tough when 20 percent of the spaces are free to some people.

Joseph Rose, the Oregonian’s transportation reporter, said he couldn’t help but feel like some drivers were pulling a fast one. “After a while, you get the unshakeable feeling that a lot of able-bodied commuters are getting their hands on disabled permits and scamming a compassionate city out of millions of dollars in parking revenue each year,” he wrote recently.

All the city needed to do to solve the problem, it turns out, was to start charging disabled placard holders to park. That took effect July 1. In an informal poll by the Oregonian, 74 percent of readers said they thought the new rules had increased the number of parking spaces available.

Disabled placard holders are now charged $2.40 for 90 minutes of parking. Those who violate the rule will be given two warnings and then fined $39. As of mid-July local officials reported only about 10 such tickets had been issued, but the policy seems to be having an impact.

“We have so much more parking,” enforcement officer J.C. Udey told the Oregonian. “It just goes to show the program is working.”

Portland’s case is promising for other cities struggling with the same problem. San Francisco is considering almost exactly the same intervention: eliminating free parking privileges for disabled placard holders. Raleigh, North Carolina, recently did something similar.

  • Alex Brideau III

    “In some parts of the city, cars with placards would occupy 20 percent or more of the on-street parking.”

    Imagine if this article looked at Downtown Los Angeles. We’ve got that 20% beat, hands down.

  • Jack

    Only about 2.5% of the population uses a mobility device. Of that 2.5% only .5% use a wheelchair/scooter. Stats taken from: http://dsc.ucsf.edu/publication.php?pub_id=2&section_id=4

    Statistics show there is rampant abuse of disabled placards. Yet there is very little being done to address the issue. Requirement of all paying at meters does not address the overall issue. It merely masks the problem by simply removing a location where abuse can occur. Rest assured those that were committing fraud at meters will continue to do so at Walmart, Costco, Target, the Mall, the Grocery Store, the Post Office, etc.

    ADA regulations require about 2% of parking spaces in a large parking lot to be designated as disabled parking. Finding a disabled parking space becomes very problematic for the 2.5% mobility device users when you have 20% of the population willing to use the 2% of designated disabled parking spaces.

    You may have masked the issue at pay meters. But you have done nothing to address the real fraud/abuse of disabled placards.

  • jarendt

    Some people are able to walk without a mobility device but cannot walk far because of illnesses like arthritis, COPD, and cancer. About 7% of the population has difficulty walking a quarter mile.
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/disability.htm
    Yes, abuse is rampant, but designating the proportion of people who can use disabled spaces and the number of spaces based on need for a mobility device doesn’t match up with all the varieties of mobility limitations people have.

  • BBnet3000

    He may be underestimating based on just limiting it to mobility devices, but if people have trouble walking a long distance they can get a legitimate handicapped placard.

  • Jack

    I purposefully only included those who used mobility devices. The reason being if you only include those you still have a supply/demand issue. You have 2.5% of the population trying to park in only 2% of the allotted parking stalls.

    If you can walk a quarter mile you do not qualify for handicap parking; A quarter mile is 1,320. Almost all states and the Federal recommendations have the least restrictive qualification of “cannot walk 200 feet”. All the other qualifications are comparable to or more debilitating than “cannot walk 200 feet”. Federal recommendations can be found here: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=1a5e7b242e59956bfac1f0571dc63226&node=23:1.0.2.14.7&rgn=div5

    One of the main reasons for the skyrocketing number of issued placards is due to many people having them that can walk 200 feet.

  • This is a reasonable and effective way to reduce placard fraud, and to help people who actually have mobility issues. The level of fraud is over 90%, which is a testament to something!

  • salsaman

    In some parts of San Francisco, cars with placards occupy over 90% of the on-street parking, for example: the 200 block of North Point Street.

  • Nathanael

    My little city, Ithaca NY, has always charged for disabled spots same as every other spot on the block. We have never had any problems with placard fraud. After reading about the SF and Portland experiences, I have advised the mayor to keep this policy the same.

    It seems that all too many people will run scams to save money. But able-bodied people will not run scams just to get parking spaces which are closer to their destinations. Which is good, because the disabled need those close-in spaces.

  • Nathanael

    The rule is actually “cannot walk 200 feet *without stopping*”.

    I know a number of people who can walk 200 feet, but have to stop to rest partway.

    Brutally, there are often shops which are over 200 feet from the nearest handicapped space. However, I’m inclined to be generous with people who can walk, say, 300 or 400 feet without stopping — without handicapped spaces, the nearest other space may be 1000 feet or more away and be completely impossible.

    The placard abuse problem is largely due to offering free parking.

  • Erica_JS

    I wouldn’t say it’s “done nothing.” The motivation to scam the system to save thousands of dollars a year via free parking is a lot stronger than the motivation to run a similar scam just to park closer at Walmart. Remove the $$ element and you’ll eliminate at least some of the scam.

  • Jack

    It is very true that distance to access goods and services varies greatly from store to store. There is no one distance qualification that will work for all people and all stores. However, distance is the most easily solved problem. There are many types of mobility aids available today that make distance a non-issue. Again, another reason to simply require the use of a mobility device to park in disabled parking. The true value of disabled parking is the access aisle and barrier free route to/from your destination. When you have these things, distance should never be a barrier if your using the proper mobility device.

    If placard abuse only occurred at parking meters I would agree it was largely due to offering free parking. But again, it has nothing to do with the fraud and abuse that occurs in free parking lots everywhere.

    Lastly, l have no problem with requiring everyone pay at meters (provided of course there’s an accessible way to pay). My only issue is it really doesn’t address the overall abuse/fraud.

  • RinSF

    Outside the MUNI bus staging area? What a coincidence.

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