(1st Place award-winning investigative series at the California College Media Awards)
Article 1: DMV Cracks Down on Disabled Placard Abuse
Hanging from the rear-view mirrors of many of the cars parked around Los Angeles City College is a blue or red disabled placard. On any given day, out of the 55 spaces that line the campus, there are up to 27 to 35 spaces taken by vehicles whose owners are registered disabled drivers. The Department of Motor Vehicles confirms that at least two of them were fraudulent.
The Collegian began investigating the high amount of disabled placards with the DMV earlier this year after Professor Robert Vangor, a math instructor in the Learning Skills Department, noticed that the number of placards being used in the metered parking was excessive. He counted 27 cars parked on Heliotrope Drive, all with blue or red placards. To Professor Vagnor, the number of placards didn’t seem right.
Walking down the streets that line City College, there are plenty of places to park your car. If you are lucky, you may get one of the few spaces across the street that do not have a parking meter. The parking meters on Willow Brook Avenue and Heliotrope Drive cost 25 cents per 15 minute intervals or $4 for six hours.
According to DMV records, there are over 24 million drivers in California and approximately 2.1 million of them will receive a disabled placard this year alone.An estimated 621,000 people in Los Angeles have a disabled parking placard; an extremely easy feat to accomplish.
An Application for Disabled Person Placard is available online, after completion, all that is needed is a doctor signature and to pay the $6 fee. The placard arrives in three weeks.
These placards are meant to ease mobility for disabled persons, but many students are finding ways to use them to circumvent the tedious lack of free student parking around campus. Many students complain about getting tickets and see it happen as they dash from class to their cars. They end up searching for other ways to get around receiving one, like using the disabled placards illegally.
This is part of a larger problem running rampant through City College campus which is currently under investigation by the Department of Transportation [DOT]. According to Cadet Flores, LACC Sheriff Dept., DOT has set up several sting operations to end disabled parking placard abuse in the surrounding area of the campus. “They can be hard to spot, you don’t know if someone is disabled by looking at them, we have to run their plates and go by the registered driver description, if it doesn’t match, they pursue the problem.” said Cadet Flores.These sting operations have been happening since the middle of last semester and will continue randomly through the next few years until a possible legislation change can enforce placard abuse.
This is an easy way to find perpetrators using probable cause. The system still needs some fine-tuning. Students who decide to try and defraud this system could be in for a not-so-pleasant surprise. The DMV threatens to cancel and revoke cards for misuse, they give a heavy fine of $250 to $3,500 for allowing misuse of placards or you could be jailed for six months.
The “crackdown” promised by the D.M.V. in 2011, seems to be going slowly. According to the D.M.V. website, One out of 10 drivers in California are legally registered as a disabled driver, making this problem common among people of all ages.
It may be easy for a student to drive their parents car, and even easier for them to put up the disabled parking pass, even though it doesn’t belong to them. One of these students using placards illegally said, “I put up the thing [placard] up and that’s because of the lame job the school does with providing parking for students. I don’t want to pay forty dollars a week to park and go to class, I know it is wrong but so are the prices the school gives for a parking permit. I’m just not going to pay.”
Maria Gonzalez, student at City Colleges said, “It isn’t fair to the rest of us who are willing to play by the rules, it shows that people really don’t care about the people who actually need the spaces.”
City Councilman, Dennis P. Zine has put forth a motion to try and make legislative changes in Los Angeles. The motion states, “Disabled parking placards are issued and regulated by the State of California and legislation would be necessary to address the rampant abuse that has been observed. Legislative changes could include actions that have been taken in other jurisdictions. The City could consider designating specific on-street parking spaces for those with disabled parking placards. The State could be asked to place the driver’s photo or other identifying information on new placards issued, and require periodic medical review to justify continued use of the disabled placard.”
Los Angeles City College isn’t the only area affected by placard abuse; it is also reported heavily downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and several other areas of the city with crackdown a priority and sting operations—all across the city.
If you spot a disabled parking placard in any of the spaces around the campus, and think it is a case of abuse, you can report it to the D.M.V. by writing down the number of the placard and license plate and filling out the form at: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/forms/inv/inv172a.pdf.
You can also call City Councilman Dennis P. Zine office at (213) 473-7003 or email him at the following link: http://cd3.lacity.org/YourTeam/ContactUs/index.htm
Article 2: Placard Abuse Draws More DOT Stings
It’s a rainy Thursday afternoon, as Collegian reporters follow undercover DOT agents, looking to bust illegal disabled parking abusers around City College.
The Collegian has been following the investigation of disabled placard abuse around the surrounding streets of L.A. City College campus. There have been few developments and some major enforcement provided to solve the situation. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has continued to set up sting operations near City College on unannounced days throughout the next few months.
Bruce Gilman, DOT Public Information Officer said, “The sting operations are random, and done by complaint level. It’s all based on availability of resources. Any complaint we receive, and we will go to investigate.”
On Nov. 28, DOT set up a sting operation on Heliotrope Ave. and Willow Brook Ave. “To find the individual, they have to get out of their car. The [starting] price is $363 dollars for misuse of disabled persons parking placards.,” said Sergeant. Kimmi Porter.
Twenty-three placards were counted around the metered parking. This number is only slightly down from 27 placards earlier this semester. After reviewing the disabled placards and license numbers, 17 of them are possible repeat disabled parking offenders, who continue to use a disabled parking placard. DOT continues to investigate on the streets around City College.
After contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out what is being done to correct the problem, it was discovered that the DMV have stopped pursuing the problem near City College. They primarily investigate when local authorities and citizens request assistance. They make exceptions in specific cases, such as when the Collegian provided disabled placard numbers and corresponding license plates for the sting operations earlier this semester.
At 12:23 p.m. DOT made their way around the surrounding streets of City College campus.
Pamela Crenshaw, an addiction counselor and legally disabled driver parked her car. She put up her disabled parking placard and walked towards the campus.
She says, “I have a brace on my leg, I have spinal arthritis. I’m not even supposed to be carrying this [indicates to handbag] a lot of people who don’t look like they’re handicapped are. It’s hard to tell, and that’s why we are asked to carry our receipts around and our doctor’s note, but yeah, there are a lot of people who take advantage.”
According to an email from Jessica Gonzalez of DMV Media Relations, “Individuals must keep their DMV application receipt in their vehicle with their name on it, as well as the placard. This verifies who is either operating or riding in the vehicle is in fact, the same person using the placard. This is an enforcement issue at the local level, and placard abuse is more appropriately handled by local police and parking enforcement authorities. They’re in the best position to actually witness the offense and are the citing authority.“ In short, the DMV is involved in issuing placards, not enforcing them.
The DMV asked Collegian reporters to place all questions to other enforcement agencies that are better equipped to solve the situation. Agencies like, the Department of Transportation, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the City Council of Los Angeles are said to have more effective methods to stop disabled placard abuse.
The Collegian contacted LAPD on the issue, and even though LAPD has the most effective ways to deal with the problem, they would not take the time to comment or give any insight on how they plan to solve the problem.
In order for enforcement, a citation needs to be written. There also needs to be “on-site evidence” of an infraction witnessed by a law enforcement or parking enforcement officer.
Cadet Flores of the LACC Sheriff Department researched how easy it is to get a disabled placard through illegal means. He explained, “People don’t even need to go to the DMV to renew their placards, it happens automatically. It is also evident that some are stolen from deceased disabled drivers cars or mailboxes.”
This creates an opportunity that further perpetuates the problem. If a disabled driver doesn’t change their address, a placard is sent to their previous address and lands in the hands of someone who is not disabled. It is up to the person receiving the placard to decide whether or not to return it to the DMV.
City Councilman Dennis Zines, former LAPD officer, is still working on legislative changes. Chief Legislative Deputy, Brian Perry said, “State administered programs such as these would have to go through state legislation. This takes a lot of time, because the state must provide the mechanisms for it. We need to make it convenient for law officers and authorities to identify the abuse easier. We could designate parking meters for disabled, although that would be protested widely by people who are actually disabled. They wouldn’t be able to access the buildings as quickly as they need to. This is a hard legislative change, because we have to be sympathetic to both sides. Another option is to require a photo of the disabled driver to be affixed to the placard.” Perry expressed how important this issue is to Councilman Zines, saying, “It is a problem affecting many people and causing widespread parking problems across Los Angeles.” The City Council will determine whether to hear the proposed legislative changes in the next couple months.
Chief Legislative Deputy Perry was included in some of the sting operations performed in Downtown, Los Angeles. He explains, “I was on a sting operation with DOT and we were picking off people left and right. People would park and throw up the placard, our DOT officer would immediately verify whether or not the driver was the registered user of the placard, several were not, and received citations.”
The parking problems are affecting several other community colleges, including ELAC, Pierce and Glendale Colleges.
Professor Tory Topjian from Glendale College said, “I have a placard because of my walking disability, but most of the time I don’t use it, and try to walk the extra distance. I only use it when I absolutely have to. It [disabled placard abuse] is rampant at Glendale [College] where I teach too. A lot of times, I have to go to the parking structure on top of the hill to park and it’s a sad thing. The parking spots for placards is right in front of the Glendale College Police station and they still don’t do anything about it.”
A recent study by Fehrs and Peers Transportation Consultants states, “Vehicles with disabled placards occupied more than a quarter of all meters surveyed (which, as a side note, suggests the existence of fraud alone, since only 20 percent of Los Angeles County reports a disability.) They also consumed the most unpaid time: whereas the average vehicle parked for roughly half an hour, the average disabled placard vehicle parked for 3 hours and 49 minutes.”
If you witness disabled placard abuse, contact campus police by dialing #3 from any phone on campus.
ARTICLE 3: Placard Abuse Rates Drop At City In The Wake Of DOT Stings
After months of intense investigation and sting operations, the Department of Transportation has successfully reduced the amount of misused disabled parking placards in the metered parking around City College, but what can help curb the problem completely?
For the past few years, some students have been using the metered parking as their own personal reserved parking, free of tickets and free of charge, but DOT has gone to great lengths to cut down on the problem. DOT has continued random sting operations as recently as Monday, April 8.
Cadet Flores said, “They [DOT] called to let us know they were here last Monday for a sting. They are definitely helping with the problem.”
Using data collected over the past year, the amount of disabled placards has decreased from 45 to around 12 daily. This opens up more of the 55 spaces around City College for legally parked vehicles and truly disabled drivers. While this is a step in the right direction, legislative changes and a new system are needed to curb the misuse completely.
Donald Shoup is the Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA. Shoup is considered the authority on all parking issues and offers several ideas to city planners to help stop many types of parking problems.
Shoups’ article, “Ending the Abuse of Disabled Placards,” explains the problem and how it affects city revenue. He writes, “A research team from UCLA observed a block with 14 parking meters for a full day, and most of the curb spaces were occupied most of the time by cars with disabled placards. For five hours of the day, cars with placards occupied all 14 spaces. The meter rate was $4 an hour, but the meters earned an average of only 32 cents an hour. Cars parked free with placards consumed $477 worth of meter time during the day, or 81 percent of the potential meter revenue on this block.” That data only applies to one block in Los Angeles.
Shoup also looked at ways that placard abuse was solved in other states. In Virginia, cities like Arlington and Alexandria attached “All May Park, All Must Pay” signs to many of their parking meters and also added specific meters for disabled drivers in easily accessible spaces. There are no price cuts at all. This removes the problem entirely and creates an evenhanded policy that generates far more revenue for the cities.
Using Professor Shoups’ data, the answer to the problem in Los Angeles is to have no more placards. The DMV could end the disabled placard system and the city could start a system in which the revenue generated by metered parking can aid disabled drivers. Shoup mentions that, “spending the full subsidy to provide paratransit services or taxi vouchers for everyone with disabilities seems much fairer than wasting 90 percent of it to provide free parking for able-bodied placard abusers.”
Some states have figured out other systems to help prevent placard abuse. Michigan adopted a two-tier system in which drivers with severe disabilities are allowed to park free at the meters, but if your condition is temporary or not debilitating you must pay at the meters. Census details from Michigan show the DMV had issued 500,000 disabled placards before the new system was in place, allowing all disabled drivers to park for free. After the new system was introduced only 10,000 drivers applied for the placards allowing free parking at meters.
According to the DMV, up to 40 percent of disabled placards are fraudulent in any area under investigation in Los Angeles. DOT will continue to enforce the metered parking around City College and random sting operations will be set up for an undetermined amount of time—until a new system or legislative changes take place.