Disabled placard abuse is causing Seattle to lose at least $1.4 million in meter fees

by: David Ham Updated:

Car with disabled parking placard

A new Seattle city auditor's report says that the city is losing at least $1.4 million a year on meter fees lost from people cheating the disabled parking placard system.

The report says up to 60 percent of people using the placards in Seattle are using them inappropriately.

Under state law, people who have medical conditions can get the placard for free and park in metered spots for free as long as they want.

"A lot of people will take a disable placard and it's not theirs -- they'll borrow it from an older relative or someone who's passed away -- hang it in their car," said David Jones, Seattle City Auditor.

His report found that data collected by SDOT shows high abuse in Downtown, First Hill, Pioneer Square, Cherry Hill and Chinatown-International District.

At the same time, city disabled-placard enforcement efforts have dropped since 2011.

That's because of a change in state law that says people who cheat the system will get a parking citation instead of a traffic violation.

"Now so it's changed so it doesn't go to an individual, it goes to a license plate, and it just makes it more complicated to track down and keep track of repeat offenders," said Jones.

But other places, like Illinois and Philadelphia, are cracking down on abuse by charging for some of the disabled permits and making them more restrictive.

"If it meant paying X amount of dollars a year in order to have the card to be able to park, certainly I'd pay that," said Heather Thomas, who uses a placard.

However the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities says that is the wrong approach because many people who use placards are also economically challenged.

The group believes the focus should be on enforcement.

The auditor's findings call for more enforcement from police and community members. It also calls on state lawmakers to reconsider state laws.