Sea of blue

Disabled placards on the rise in many U.S. cities
Associated Press
Sep 7, 2013

A blue placard dangling from the rear-view mirror is the equivalent of parking gold for drivers in many cities — they can park for free and for as long as they want. Now there's a gold rush on for them.

And as the number of vehicles displaying a disabled placard has soared with an aging population and loosened eligibility standards, cities are seeing the impact in more congested downtowns and the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.

Now, officials are pushing back, tightening standards for those who can get the placards and making sure that the only people who get the privilege are those who really need it.

"It was astonishing to see car after car after car with the disabled placard," said Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick, who is seeking a solution to the problem in a city with a reputation for bicycling and mass transit but still reliant on the car.

It's common in the city to find blocks in which there are more cars with placards than without. Stroll by a parking meter and you will see the placards through the windshields of both beaters and BMWs.

In the city's annual survey of roughly 9,000 downtown meters, just over 1,000 vehicles had disabled placards in October 2012, a 72 percent increase in five years. In the core area of downtown, a third of the vehicles had placards.

As a result, Portland lost an estimated $2.4 million in meter revenue last year, and the lack of turnover frustrates store owners, deprives the severely disabled of spaces near their destination and forces drivers to circle blocks in search of a spot.

Authorities issued 186 citations for unlawful use of a permit the fiscal year ending June 30, but believe there is more abuse.

Cheaters are tough to catch because the placard is generally valid and the driver, who may be borrowing one, is only at the car for a couple of minutes during the workday.

Experts say the easiest way to stop abuse is to make the disabled pay the meter, especially those not in wheelchairs. Places such as Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., and Arlington County, Va., did so and there was more turnover in the spots.

The Illinois Legislature passed a law that takes effect next year in which free-metered parking will be reserved for only the most severely disabled residents. It was spurred in part by Chicago's decision to privatize its parking meters. As part of the deal, it agreed to reimburse the company for free parking provided to holders of disabled placards. The tab since 2009: $55 million.

"Economically, a free parking pass is a very nice thing to have, and there are always enough people who are a bit unscrupulous when it comes to parking that you can't expect self-restraint," said Donald Shoup, a UCLA urban planning professor and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking."

One of Shoup's former students, Jonathan Williams, researched curbside parking in Los Angeles while getting his master's degree, finding that cars with placards took most spots when the workday began and often didn't leave until it ended.

On one block in the financial district, placards consumed 80 percent of the total meter hours. Though the spaces were occupied 95 percent of the time, meters that charged $4 an hour collected an average of only 28 cents an hour.

California started issuing placards in 1959 to people unable to move without a wheelchair. Within two decades, it was expanded to include people with breathing problems and general mobility problems.

"We looked back from 1990 to 2010, even normalized for population growth, there was a 350 percent increase in the number of placards issued in California," Williams said. "Even if there was no abuse, there are a lot of placards in circulation."

Oregon has issued placards to 354,000 of its 3 million drivers. Those authorized to sign a permit include doctors of medicine, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatrists, optometrists, naturopaths, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Portland's Disabled Parking Task Force asked the Oregon Medical Association in 2010 to remind doctors about the impact of improper placards, and recommended temporary permits instead of ones that can be valid for years until a driver's license expires.

Betty Brislawn, 84, uses a placard because she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A task force member, Brislawn said there are many cheaters, but you can't assume people with internal problems are less worthy of a placard than those in wheelchairs.

"My oxygen level, if I walk fast, will go down to 83 and that means I'm in really dire trouble; I could pass out," she said. "But otherwise I look fine."

Novick doesn't have a placard, though he was born with missing fibula bones and no left hand. The 4-foot-9 commissioner said ensuring open spaces for those with severe mobility problems should be the city's focus.

"Being really short, I would kind of like it if grocery stores had tongs you could use to take things off the top shelf," he joked. "That would be a good accommodation, but I still think I should have to pay for the groceries."




If you want to see a funny one go over to the Great Northern Mall, they have spots designated for pregnant women! I think the spots are good but sometimes they have way to many. Take Target for instance, the entire center rows are for handicap people, I do not think I have seen 10 handy caped people in that store at any one time. Maybe abuse on all sides, why not just make the entire parking lot handy caped?

Better yet, how about a little common sense from the doctor giving these things out to the people using them and the state for mandating how many per store.


Some folks seem to judge others by appearance. A person could have a heart condition that isn't visible or many other medical conditons that you can't see. As far as the obese people, yes you can see the person's size but you don't know why they are that way. Perhaps they have a medical condition that makes it impossible for them to exercise(walk) or some other type of medical condition. Not all obesity is necessarily caused by overeating and having a placard doesn't necessarily mean that person doesn't hold down a job. What makes me mad is seeing someone sitting in the driver's seat in a handicap spot waiting for someone to come out of the store. If that person isn't leaving the car, they don't need to use a handicap spot. If the person shopping is the one with the handicap, the driver can drop them off and pick them up at the door instead of taking the parking spot from someone who really needs it.

Licorice Schtick

"Not all obesity is necessarily caused by overeating..."

I doubt that, but even if true, surely 99.9% of all obesity is. (That's not to say there aren't contributing causes, of course.)

Compassion is in order, but telling people it's OK to be obese is just a form of food addiction enablement. It's not helpful; it just makes them feel better while they slowly kill themselves at everyone's expense.


Why would it be your expense?


If you doubt that check the medical facts.

Licorice Schtick

In Ohio it takes a letter from a doctor to get a placard, and doctors are sometimes complicit in misuse - they wanna keep their patients happy. It would be nice if there was some sort of oversight of this.

There are a lot of other ways to misuse this system, some of them mentioned above. It's born of ignorance, selfishness and laziness. I know of one high school kid who loved to use Gramma's car with handicap plates because he thought that made it OK to park in blue spots. Maybe tougher penalties would help, but only if law enforcement took this seriously, and they tend to respond only to complaints, unless a particular officer has personal experience with this.

Having a family member with special needs quickly turns one into a advocate for accessibility.

Kottage Kat

While some of us who have do NOT always park in handicapped zone.
On bad day yes, as I have heart disease. Walking is good for me and I often park at a distance for the exercise
I look realativly (sp) healthy and do not abuse what I see as as blessing WHEN I NEED IT
My gripe is the people at Walmart that park on the lines where there is no parking just because they have a sticker


"some of us who have do NOT always park in handicapped zone"

Yep, correct Kat, my mom is 85, drives just fine, and has leg problems so when we go places I park her car in that zone and have to walk her in, it is the distance for her. On the other hand a good friend is waiting to have a knee replaced and has good and bad days, I also see a local guy with one leg park way out in no mans land. I guess he does not feel like he is handicapped. Again it is all about common sense, abuse is typical in America anymore, very sad but true!


Please report handicapped parking violators respectfully. Remember that we can not know somebody's personal situation.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

That is probably a more tactful way of doing things rather than printing out a "notice" from! The dashes, of course, should be replaced by letters if your imagination fills them in. "Infraction 1" has some funny options like "diagonal parking: cool car".


There is a red handicap placard for short term disability. I know because I had one a few years ago. It was good for 6 months. I don't think I have ever seen another one except mine.


One parked across from us just the other day. The man had a blow up cast on his right foot and he had a red sticker in his window.

One word of caution to ANY of u who may have those stickers...It states clearly on it that it is to be REMOVED when you so. The police can stop you and give you a ticket for obtructed vision. My husband likes to read those police things in the SR....he saw several for the placard in the window. Its a moving violation so just beware. They let kids have all that junk in their windows but you cannot have that placquard in your window and drive with it in. Not if you don't want to get a ticket.


I observed a large lady, on a motorized cart, check out using her food stamps, paid cash for her high sugar soda, beer and cigarettes come out of the store, lite a cigarette and loaded up her beer and cigarettes into a fairly new vehicle from her handicapped parking space. Of course she left the motorized cart in the middle of the parking lot all the while a young teenage girl with her talked on a cell phone, my guess free from the government.

The Big Dog's back

Go ahead, take a wild guess as to which state relies on food stamps the most?

Has to be one of those lefty, bleeding-heart, tax-guzzling states, doesn't it? Lots of cities, lots of public spending and entitlements, very little "real America." That's exactly the profile of today's taker society, isn't it?

Well, only if you feel that Mississippi fits any of those descriptions. According to the Department of Agriculture's latest figures, mapped out by The Wall Street Journal, 22% of citizens in The Magnolia State are currently enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That's more than one in every five people in the state and well above the national average of 15%.

Just to be clear, that's the same Mississippi that still sports the Confederate Stars and Bars in its state flag and elected firmly Republican Phil Bryant as its governor and Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker as its senators. The state now has roughly 663,000 people on food stamps, a population larger than that of Boston, Seattle, Denver or Washington, D.C.


The fat welfare queen should not have had to use her cash benefit on soda. Soda can be bought with the "Food Stamps".


The 1rst state to offer tax abatements also. (30's) Still one, if not the poorest states in the Union.


Sometimes obesity is caused by a person's medical problem, or medications and they get trapped a vicious cycle.

Then what? Can you tell a person's medical history just by what they look like? I know folks (under 60) who have balance issues who don't like to use a cane, all the time, but they still have a placard, IF they need it on a bad day.

Another point, I drove my mom (she never weighed over 115 tops) around in my car, so I had the placard in my car - for her.

I do agree, though, there is a lot of fraud. just like anything else.


I gots da bronchitis.......aint nobody got time for dat......I needs a handicap tag.