“Handicapped’ Cheats, Big Brother, and Oh Those Brits


“Handicapped’ Cheats, Big Brother, and Oh Those Brits

I rail about this problem quarterly, so here is the latest edition. The story is from Providence, RI, but could be from most anywhere. The police are simply asking folks with handicapped/disabled placards if the placards are theirs.
Legitimate permit holders are happy to show documents verifying their possession. In fact, they laud the police for checking. Others, not so much.
The excuses, as reported by the Providence Journal, are legend: “It belongs to my husband, but I forgot his name.”  Or, “I need it so I can rush home in an emergency.” These losers have the placards confiscated and can get a $500 fine.
A year or so ago, the city of LA set up teams of officers — a parking enforcement officer and a sworn police officer — to work areas where disabled placard abuse was rampant. The PEO could do the searches to ensure the placards were valid, and the cop would be there to authorize the towing of the vehicle. Based on initial numbers, these teams could generate upwards of a $1 million a year in citation revenue, plus they could free up spaces for legitimate use.
Technology is available (a type of in-car meter or an AVI tag, for instance) that could put an end to such duplicity.  The in-car meter would have to be recharged online using the owner’s code. That way, short-term disabilities could be given permits that could be turned off after a certain time. And the AVI tag could be given similar properties.
In the end, the best way to do away with this problem is to have the disabled pay for parking. They are getting a special space with more room for access. They could also get more time (say, three hours in a two-hour zone), because they don’t move quite as quickly as the rest of us.
But if the incentive (free parking) were taken away, perhaps the cretins who abuse these permits would look to other ways to get their jollies, like abusing puppies.
Strict enforcement is a good start.  Way to go, Providence. If people know they might be caught and hit with a big fine, then …

Here’s the deal — Fort Collins, CO, has been using an AutoVu ALPR system for the past decade to enforce parking around the Old Town community. The database has millions of records of vehicles, license numbers, and when and where they were parked.
The local newspaper, The Coloradoan, got wind of the database and was able to search it and find where one of its reporters had been at various times over the past year. Seems that the system not only is “on” when driven in the downtown area to enforce parking, but also on all the time, so when the officers drive outside that enforcement area, licenses and related data are also collected there.
The ACLU and other privacy groups are crying foul, and the parking folks are saying that they are wiping the database clean after six months.
It can be added that the police don’t use this database (to find stolen cars, etc.), but in other areas, they do, and seek out not only missing vehicles, but also those “that shouldn’t be in a neighborhood” to prevent crime. Wow!
The ACLU is not on my top 10 of favorite organizations, but they do have a point. If this database is available for anyone to search, think of the possibilities. Spouses checking up on spouses. Bosses on employees. We could follow the mayor to see just how he spends his time (maybe that’s not so bad).
What with the ongoing federal NSA scandal and all, maybe it’s time we took a step back and rethink the morality and ethics of “tracking” folks. Why is it anyone’s business where I go or what I do?  As long as I’m not breaking any laws, shouldn’t my privacy be sacrosanct?
The automatic license plate recognition system is a great tool for enforcement and for other parking applications, but why is it necessary to keep the data at all?
What say we collect the data and then erase them after the time required to see if vehicles in an area are over-staying? Keep those records concerning citations and purge the rest daily. If the police want to search for stolen vehicles, the database of stolen cars can be searched online in real-time, and only those records of stolen vehicles can be maintained.
What need is there to keep the data about where you parked for six months (as Fort Collins does)? If you were cited, sure, but the 99% that weren’t?  Memory is cheap and mainlining terabytes of data can be done on a laptop. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
I know there is a school of thought that says, “If you don’t break the rules, why should you care if someone is watching?”
My answer is: “Being able to go about one’s business without looking over one’s shoulder, no matter how innocent that business is, is what freedom is all about. Isn’t it?”
The Residents in Barnet, a north London borough, began legal action against the council in 2011 after it increased the cost of parking permits from £40 to £100 and vouchers for visitors from £1 to £4
If you read the Parking Today Blog, you would have noted my bons mots about cities not using parking revenue to “top up” a budget shortfall. I guess they read PT’s site in the sceptered isle, as the courts there are doing something about it. 
The stern-faced UK gentleman pictured atop The Guardian July 22 article (“Barnet residents win high court fight against parking permit price-hike”) led a lawsuit against a local authority that was raising parking rates to cover a budget problem.
The Residents in Barnet, a north London borough, began legal action against the council in 2011 after it increased the cost of parking permits from £40 to £100, and vouchers for visitors from £1 to £4.
At the high court, the newspaper’s website reported, Mrs. Justice Lang declared that the legislation under which Barnet had increased the charges, the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act, “is not a fiscal measure and does not authorize the authority to use its powers to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes.”
The campaign was led by East Finchley resident and solicitor David Attfield, the report said. “The increase to £100 was steep enough, but what really enraged people was the £4 flat charge for visitors. It meant it was more expensive for a friend to drop in on you at your home in outer London than to park outside Harrods,” he said.
Brits, being stiff upper lip and all that rot, probably weren’t picketing in the streets, but they got the attention of HerHonor, and there you go.  Maybe the East Finchley folks followed the banner “No taxation through parking charges.”
My guess is that local governments in the U.S. might find themselves in a similar fix if they keep raising parking fees and can’t justify it as a purely parking charge.
OK, OK — the Guardian article was written long before mine and the lawsuit was two years old, but you get the drift.

John Van Horn is Editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at jvh@parkingtoday.com

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