Disabled parking violators costing city millions

Photo courtesy of pva.org

SEATTLE -- Part of Seattle’s parking problem may be linked to misuse of disabled parking permits.

According to a recent audit of the Seattle Department of Transportation, the city estimates 60% of disabled parking placards are being used illegally by drivers in Seattle’s neighborhoods.

Those with handicapped parking permits are permitted by law to park free of charge in metered areas. But the city is concerned that many drivers are using a relative or a friend’s placard to avoid feeding the meter. In some of the cases, the city believes able-bodied family members are using a dead relatives parking placard.

The audit estimates Seattle is losing $1.4 million in lost revenue from those fraudulently using the placards.

The auditor’s office estimates more than 90 percent of the lost funds are coming from those illegally parking with the permits in Downtown and First Hill, where 20 to 30 percent of the parking spots are occupied by a vehicle displaying a disabled placard.

Lawmakers passed a bill during the 2009-2011 legislative session lessening the penalty for unauthorized use of a disabled placard. City officials say the change made it harder to track repeat offenders and barred police from seizing placards from violators.

The Seattle Police Department dissolved their parking abuse task force in 2012, relying on citizen complaints to identify violators. That same year officers issued 10 citations for unauthorized use of a placard, compared to 485 in 2008.

The audit suggests reforms not only within SDOT and SPD, but with the state department of licensing to crack down on those illegally obtaining permits.

Additionally, the city estimates they shelled out roughly $1.7 million in processing fees for drivers using their credit cards to pay for parking in 2012. The city has negotiated rate changes to try and curb the amount in fees they are forced to pay.

In 2011, the city netted $11.3 million in parking revenues, $8.3 million in Downtown alone.