Fraudulently using handicapped parking spots is a particularly scummy crime, but with an aging population there is a growing grey zone of people who have some difficulty getting around, and may feel entitled to handicapped parking without actually having a disability—not to mention the people who simply want the convenience of easy parking. According to an Associated Press report, cities are starting to clamp down.

Handicapped parking

Portland City Commissioner on disabled parking

“It was astonishing to see car after car with the disabled placard,” said Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick. Portland has seen a 72 percent increase in disabled placards in five years. In downtown, a third of all vehicles have disabled parking placards, and Novick says that it’s common to see blocks of cars where more people have them than don’t.

Since people with disabled parking passes don’t have to pay the meter, Portland lost $2.4 million in meter revenue in 2012; since they don’t have to move around like drivers feeding the meter, shop owners see less turnover. Of course, other drivers end up spending more time looking for parking, and disabled people don’t get spots that are meant specifically for them.

People misusing the handicapped placard

Most of the time, the placard itself is legit, and since people who misuse them can hide them while driving and put them up just before stepping out of the car, the window to catch cheaters is just a few minutes per day. Ticketing people who appear able-bodied isn’t a solution either, as many legitimate disabilities are internal and don’t have an obvious external manifestation.

It may seem too easy for able-bodied people to criticize degrees of mobility impairment, but Novick himself was born missing a fibula and with no left hand. Standing 4-foot-9, he chooses not to use handicapped parking even though he would certainly qualify, saying that the city should really be working to help those who have ‘severe’ mobility problems.

Many experts say that the best way to combat the abuse of handicapped parking is to force almost everyone to pay for it. While most recommend an exemption for people in wheelchairs, handicapped parking fraud is largely a matter of convenience – people would rather not go down and pay the meter every few hours. Cities that have taken away that perk have seen handicapped parking fraud drop significantly.