Should Disabled People Pay to Park?
Whether people with disabilities should pay to park is one of those questions that I can’t answer with a simple yes or no. This is because I believe that when making a decision about parking charges, various circumstances and factors need to be considered.
First, what will happen if you charge disabled people to park in a carpark, or parking facility? Here in the UK, we have a disabled persons parking scheme, or program, where eligible disabled people are issued a “Blue Badge.” This enables them to park for up to three hours free of charge on “double and single yellow lines” (limited parking areas) in England and Wales – no time limit in Scotland – or for any amount of time in designated disabled “bays,” or spaces.
Therefore, if a parking facility that was once free for disabled people introduces charging, the likelihood is that all the vehicles that once parked in it will move onto the “yellow lines” outside.
This can be detrimental to traffic flow, as people will drive around looking for a space, and then when they park, the process of unloading mobility equipment can hold up the traffic. Therefore, if I ran a carpark that was surrounded by double and single yellow lines, I would certainly think twice before deciding to charge disabled people, as the likelihood is that they wouldn’t come into the carpark anyway.
However, if it served a large shopping center and is out of town, then disabled people will have no other option but to use the carpark, and so parking charges would not create traffic problems in the surrounding roads.
There may be, however, other factors to consider before introducing charging. For instance, if you want disabled people to pay, then how are you going to enable them to do so? A coin-operated machine, even at a height suitable for wheelchair-users, is still going to be inaccessible for many disabled drivers who do not have the dexterity to handle coins. (This can be made even more difficult where machines require number plates to be typed in.)
However, advances are happening all the time with payment options, as well as phone and online payment options, and some machines can now take contactless card payments. Yet, only this morning, when parking my car in a pay-and-display carpark, did I find myself having to leave a note saying I couldn’t pay because not only was the machine too high for me to reach in my wheelchair, it also required coins to be inserted in a slot.
I’m pleased to say, though, that I didn’t find a ticket when I got back to my car.
So, if you expect disabled people to pay, make sure the infrastructure is in place to enable this to happen.
A further consideration – and probably the most controversial – is whether it is “morally” right or wrong to charge disabled people to park.
Some will argue that disabled people do not have the other transport options that others may have, such as using the bus or cycling or walking, and so should not have to pay to park.
However, I believe that many other groups of people also do not have any choice about using a car and parking – for example, those who live in areas with no bus service, parents with young children where car travel is a lot easier, and disabled people who do not qualify for the Blue Badge program.
Also, I believe that if disabled people do not have to pay, then it perpetuates the myth that all disabled people are poor and need charity.
My argument is just that we need equality of opportunity. What I think is fairer is, wherever possible, that disabled people can be given a bit of extra time free of charge to compensate for the additional time they take to get around, as going shopping with a wheelchair-user is rarely a quick trip.
I appreciate that it is not always possible with all carpark machinery, but wherever possible, this is what I would like to see. However, I would never expect to see a disabled person being penalized for taking too long between paying for her or his parking ticket and leaving the carpark, because loading up equipment can be a time-consuming job.
To conclude, as a disabled person, I don’t expect to park free of charge, but I would expect to have bays, or spaces, marked for me to use with ease. And if I am expected to pay, then please put some thought into how that will be achieved.
If I have a good parking experience, then I would be happy to pay!
Helen Dolphin, MBE, an Independent Mobility Consultant in the UK, is Director of the People’s Parking program there.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.