Friday, August 23, 2013

Who Really Benefits from Philanthropic Parking?

As you navigate the streets of downtown Portland, do you ever take a peek inside the windshields of the cars that fill our city's scant parking spaces? I don't make a habit of it, but Joseph Rose, writer for the Oregonian, decided to look into some suspicions he had about the striking abundance of blue handicap cards hanging from the rearview mirrors of parked cars.

Here's the deal: In Portland, people with disabilities get free, full-day parking as long as they have that blue card in their window. This reflects Portland's friendly, welcoming vibe and seems like a pretty reasonable gesture at first glance. However, when one takes into consideration the apparent ease with which these cards are obtained (Rose suspects doctors want to keep their clients, and so give them what they want), problems emerge. As Rose and parking enforcer, Mary Kisel, traversed downtown Portland, Rose noticed that there were entire blocks of cars parked and displaying hanging blue cards. It's a sensitive topic to discuss, but Rose certainly isn't the only one who has some doubts about the high volume of Portlanders with disabilities. City Commissioner, Steve Novick, agrees that evidence points to people playing the system to get out of paying for parking and moving their cars every two hours:

“The idea that more than half of the people with business in the core area of downtown Portland have disabilities that preclude them from using parking meters or other forms of transportation frankly strains credulity.”

This is coming from a man who not only has an interest in the well being of his city, but is also a member of the disabled community. Novack, who was born without a left hand or fibula bones in his legs, sent a letter last week to Portland's Disabled Parking Task Force in the hopes of fixing the issue of people essentially getting doctors' notes to get out of paying for parking.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that all people who have blue cards in their windshields are faking disability. It's a similar situation to the increasing talk about people unnecessarily filing disability claims: some people take advantage of a loosely defined system and end up hurting those who actually need the assistance. Now these acts of personal gain are hurting the city as well as its disabled community. Portland loses an estimated $2.4 million to disability parking abuse. People aren't paying the meters, and because of full-day parking privileges, car turnover decreases, and Portland loses money.

So what do we do? Do we set a single parking standard for all people? Make a specific set of guidelines for doctors to follow when determining who gets a blue parking card? Maybe put a completely different body (like the Disabled Parking Task Force) in charge of making those determinations? Or should we just leave things as they are? What is more fair for the disabled community? For the city?

I know that's a lot of questions, but I think it's a subject worth thinking about. Give me your pros and cons, and tell me where you stand on this issue.

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