Roughly 14 percent of meters in San Francisco are occupied by vehicles displaying disabled-parking placards — allowing those motorists to park free for an unlimited time in coveted spots in high-demand areas.
To qualify for a disabled-parking placard, which is issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, residents must submit a written note from a physician, surgeon, chiropractor, midwife or nurse practitioner explaining their disability. In 2007, the free passes were expanded to include medical workers and caregivers who drive disabled residents.
Since the program was adopted in the late 1980s, the number of disabled-parking placards in San Francisco has skyrocketed. There are currently 50,742 placards in The City — roughly twice the number of parking meters. According to a study by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, metered spaces are occupied 14 percent of the time by vehicles with placards, up from 8.8 percent in 2006.
“There is placard abuse in San Francisco,” disability activist Bob Planthold said. “And when that happens, it means the people with real disabilities have to walk further, cross more streets and drive around longer looking for spots.”
Planthold said 14 percent usage is implausibly high considering the low number of disabled San Franciscans who drive. Citing a report by a 2007 grand jury that he was a member of, Planthold said many medical professionals heedlessly approve the placards.
Susan Mizner, director of the Mayor’s Office of Disability, said the 2000 U.S. census suggested about 20 percent of The City’s population suffers from some physical, psychiatric or cognitive disability. Thus, she wishes the placard-usage rate was higher, since that would mean more able-bodied residents were taking public transit.
But other government officials are worried about the problem. According to a 2007 controller’s report, misuse of the passes costs The City $15 million annually.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, who wrote a law last year increasing fines for placard abuse, said more legislation could be necessary, including time limits at parking meters.
Madeline Behrens-Brigham, who has scoliosis, uses a parking placard. And she’s witnessed plenty of questionable acts.
“I see people sprinting back to cars that have disabled placards,” Behrens-Brigham said. “I certainly scratch my head and think, ‘How the heck did that person qualify for a placard?’”
Disabled-placard use has increased dramatically.
- 21,005 Disabled-parking placards in San Francisco in 1994
- 50,742 Disabled-parking placards in San Francisco now
- 154 Percentage increase over that time
- 423,024 Registered cars in San Francisco in 1994
- 470,349 Registered cars in San Francisco now
- 11 Percentage increase over that time
- 26,500 Parking meters in San Francisco
- $0 Cost of disabled-parking placard
- $935 Fine for disabled-parking placard abuse*
* Effective July 1
Sources: SFMTA, DMV