The D.C. Council is scheduled to take up an emergency measure Tuesday that would suspend enforcement of the District’s new red top meter parking system for people with disabilities.
The new program requires that everyone, including people with disabilities, pay for meter parking. The District is installing meters with red tops that are reserved for vehicles displaying disability placards or plates. People parking at those meters can pay to park for double the time normally allowed in that area.
The District initially put out 400 of the red tops in the central business area and on streets near federal buildings in Southwest Washington.
People with disabilities objected. Their issue wasn’t so much the payments as the limited supply of parking. Instead of being able to park anywhere for double the time normally allowed at meters, they were restricted to the red top locations.
They pointed out that a person traveling to a doctor’s appointment or physical therapy might need more than two hours of street parking. The city’s Department of Transportation announced two weeks ago that it would speed up the placement of red tops so that by April 17, parkers would find 1,500 of them across the city.
But D.C. Council Member Muriel Bowser is still concerned, as reported last week by Mike DeBonis. The measure she is sponsoring would prohibit the city from ticketing any parked vehicle that displays a valid disability permit as long as the vehicle abides by all posted “No Parking” signs, and so long as the person with the disability is in the vehicle when parking or pulling out of the space.
DDOT said that the new parking policy was designed to combat fraud. The old system allowing free parking and double time anywhere was being abused by cheaters. That denied revenue to the city and parking to people with disabilities.
But now, according to Bowser’s Disabled Citizen Parking Fairness Emergency Act of 2012, “there is no guarantee that a red-top meter will be available or convenient for disabled drivers. The perverse result is that some disabled drivers will pay today for the same inaccessible parking space that, as of two weeks ago, was free of charge. Also, many disabled residents have expressed confusion with regard to the new rules. The red-top program, albeit well-intentioned, is inadequately tailored to provide accessible parking without overburdening those who need it.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic issued a statement calling on the city to rethink the policy and to involve disabled people in that process.
“It comes down to this: Disabled parking is already insufficient in the city, parking enforcement is draconian, and the critics are rightly concerned that the new parking rules were implemented without a lot of public input,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs.
“This is a crucial first step for ensuring transparency and for building public buy-in from all stakeholders, including disabled parkers and disabled elderly drivers living on fixed incomes, now upset about having to pay to park. But instead of nipping it in the bud, it would be wiser to allow the system to work, and then to reshape it by expanding it throughout the city, including along neighborhood streets.”
I do think that parkers with disabilities have good reasons to be concerned about the new program, but I have this concern about the emergency measure: Won’t this cause even more confusion? The red top meters will still be in place. How are people going to get the word about which rules to follow and which to ignore?