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No Free Parking San Francisco Cracks Down On Able Bodies’ Abuse Of Handicapped Spaces

Wed., May 15, 1996

Parking control officer Bebe Pubill had been staking out the parked car at Second and Folsom streets here for some time when the owner came sauntering back to it.

As Pubill and her partner approached to ask about the disabled parking placard hanging in the window, the car mowed right through them, smashing Pubill’s hand and her partner’s knee.

Pubill had to have surgery and take six months off to recuperate, and now she’s suing the driver who ran her down. The man was arrested several days after the incident and plea-bargained the case with prosecutors.

The affair only heightened Pubill’s resolve to nab placard scofflaws.

“The whole concept of the little man in the wheelchair has gone down the toilet,” she complained. “People will do anything for the free parking.”

Pubill is part of a four-person parking-control unit dedicated to hunting down people fraudulently using the placards, which give unlimited free parking in green (temporary parking) zones, blue (handicapped parking) zones and metered spaces.

The Parking and Traffic Commission is waging a campaign to reduce the estimated thousands of San Franciscans who are abusing the privilege by using the placards to monopolize precious downtown meter spaces all day. It voted last week to determine whether doctors are giving placards to the undeserving.

The Department of Parking and Traffic doesn’t know exactly how many of the city’s 21,000 placards are used illegally, but since there are only 22,000 metered spaces, the department claims millions of dollars in meter revenue are lost annually. Plus, thousands of drivers are forced to circle blocks in search of remaining parking spots.

“It’s the single biggest contributor to congestion right now,” said John Newlin, the department’s executive director.

Newlin said 15 to 30 cars should be able to use a single metered space each day, depending on the area.

But up to 40 percent of downtown spaces are taken up all day by cars with disabled placards. Parking control officer Mark Garvey said the number goes up to 99 percent on certain blocks in the Financial District.

“We have meters not to make money but to accommodate vehicle turnover,” said Newlin.

The abuse unit has confiscated close to 1,100 placards since it was formed 2-1/2 years ago. It has found that most of the abuse comes from people borrowing placards from friends and relatives.

The price of getting caught is high.

In addition to a $500 fine for illegally using someone else’s placard, which Newlin says is the highest parking fine in the world, drivers also can get a $25 ticket for an expired meter or a $250 ticket for being illegally parked in a blue zone.


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