Drivers with disabilities may lose free parking

It’s been discussed before, but now a new proposal could mean drivers with disabled placards must pay to park.

San Francisco city officials propose eliminating free parking for blue placard holders and enforcing time limits at meters, which California law currently dictates otherwise.

However, officials are concerned that the number of disabled placards issued in the Bay Area — which saw a 100 percent increase since 2001 — means many are abusing or misusing the cards. Each year, the city confiscates about 1,800 of the more than 60,000 placards issued to San Francisco residents due to illegal use.

Some of these fraudulent placards are issued by medical professionals who charge up to $750 for signing off disability certificates. Since placards never have to be renewed, it means free parking for life.

The proposal, drafted by leading advocacy groups and business organizations, addresses these issues by making blue placard holders pay current parking rates and having drivers be subject to four-hour limits at meters.

Since disabled placard holders outnumber the city’s available handicap parking, the panel recommended increasing the city’s blue zones by 470, a 70 percent increase. Parking enforcement would also be bolstered to patrol these areas.

According to the Examiner, disability advocates were concerned about implementing parking fees because many blue placard holders are on fixed incomes.

However,  Ed Reiskin, executive director of the SFMTA, said enforcing fees would discourage drivers from abusing placards and open disabled parking for those who actually need it.

A formal proposal will be drafted and presented to the SFMTA by early fall, and the Board of Supervisors by 2014. Ultimately the proposal will need state approval.