I know that this one's going to get me into trouble, but here goes ...
In response to a Globe report on handicap parking-placard abuse, I wrote a letter to the editor that placard abuse stems, at least in part, from parking scarcity and too-low meter rates. (Full letter below.)
Thinking about it some more, I realized that there is another contributing factor: the free-ness of handicap parking.
Let me get one item out of the way. I am absolutely in favor of plentiful, convenient handicap parking. People with limited mobility absolutely have a right to park close to their destinations. I would not remove a single existing handicap space, on-street or off-.
But, there's no reason at all that handicap parking should be free. More precisely, there's no reason that handicap parking should be priced any differently than other spaces. If there were no difference between the price of handicap parking and other spaces, you'd remove one of the incentives for placard abuse.
Before you, dear reader, curse me for my insensitivity to the people who deservedly make use of handicap parking spaces, ask yourself this: why is it that parking—alone among all other aspects of private vehicle ownership and use—has a different fee for handicap and non-handicap users?
As far as I can tell:
- "Disabled" license plates cost the same as "normal" plates -- issue fee and renewal. ("Disabled" and "normal" are Registry terms, not mine.)
- All drivers pay the same rate for class D licenses.
- There is no Fast Lane discount on the Turnpike.
- There are no discounts for car purchase, gasoline, or other costs of driving
So why should there be a discount for handicap parking?
To be sure, if you put meters on handicap spaces, they are still more attractive because of their relative availability compared to regular spaces. But that's because all meter rates are too low. Higher rates would create regular vacancies and further diminish the distinct value of handicap spaces.
My full letter to the Globe:
There's no question that the abuse of handicap parking placards is a story of appalling immorality. But, it is also a story of parking scarcity and the poor management of the city's parking assets.
Metered on-street parking is scarce—in part—because the meter rates are so low. High off-street parking rates and the illegal ends people are willing to go to secure on-street parking tells us that the market will bear higher, market-based meter prices for on-street parking. Properly set market-based parking rates would create regular parking vacancies, reduce cruising for parking, and generate revenue that could be used in the immediate business district.
Market-based meter rates won't prevent handicap parking placard abuse, but it would remove one proffered excuse: that there are just no other spaces available.