By Howard Moscoe
The accessible parking permit system in Ontario needs to be scrapped and re-engineered.
There are almost 600,000 disabled parking permits issued by the province of Ontario. Many, if not most of them, are owned by people who do not deserve to hold them. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the Province of Ontario and elected politicians who don’t have the guts make real changes to the criteria for issuing permits.
A handicapped parking permit is one of the most valuable permits you can own, not only because of the money that you save, but the privilege it conveys. Those privileges include: the right to park in conveniently located reserved parking spots, the right to ignore most “No Parking” signs and (in Toronto) the right to free on street parking.
In the 70s, when the accessible parking permit system was being developed, I represented the Association of Municipalities of Ontario on a stakeholder committee that was advising the government of the day on how to structure the accessible parking system. Two members of that committee, John Feld who represented an association for people with disabilities, and I warned that the proposed system for obtaining a permit was fraught with potential for abuse.
To obtain a permit, all that you need is a letter from a physician. Most physicians are advocates for their patients. Under these conditions, the letters would be too easy to obtain. How many of you know someone who has a permit that they don’t deserve or is using a permit that belonged to a deceased relative?
Now, I have a disabled parking permit. I have a breathing disability and a leg muscle problem that requires me to wear a leg brace. I drive my car using hand controls and I resent the fact that I have to circle a parking lot to find a distant parking space because some inconsiderate slob is occupying a handicapped spot that they don’t need or deserve.
What is the answer? Raise the fines? The present fine for abusing a disabled parking spot is more than $250. Has it helped? Better enforcement? Perhaps, but it’s a tough regime to enforce because you actually have to catch someone with a permit they shouldn’t have and have then to prove that they shouldn’t have it.
In 1995 I was vice-chair of the Toronto Transit Commission. We ran the Wheel-Trans system. Wheel-Trans provides door to door accessible transit for disabled riders. It was costing us more than $28.00 for each one way trip (riders paid a TTC ticket).
The TTC was financially pressed to the wall. Not only had funding been cut for Wheel-Trans, but we had come to realize that there was widespread abuse of our eligibility criteria.
The Wheel-Trans system had become a free taxi service for anyone who could get a letter from their doctor.
At the urging of our Disabled Advisory Committee we scrapped our Wheel-Trans permits, dumped the doctor’s letter, changed the eligibility criteria to “unable to ride a regular bus” and forced all of our permit holders to re-apply.
They had to attend in person and be interviewed by a panel that included a disabled person and a physiotherapist. It was tough love, but it had to be done. We had to reserve the Wheel-Trans rides for those who really needed them.
As a result, we dumped more than half of those who held permits, many of whom didn’t even bother to apply.
It was politically painful, but necessary to preserve the integrity of the system. That is what has to be done to ensure the disabled parking permit system is socially defensible and free of abuse.
The system has to be scrapped and re-booted. Will politicians in Ontario have the guts to tell 300,000 citizens that they have to give up their permits? I wouldn’t bet on it.