WRAL Investigates

Raleigh's pay-to-park rule helps curb handicapped placard abuse

Posted May 13, 2010

— For years, parking has been a sore spot for downtown Raleigh businesses, especially time-limited parking spaces taken up all day by vehicles with handicapped placards.

Floye Dombalis said she watched it every day from her cash register at Mecca Restaurant on Martin Street.

“It was being abused. I think people were using them who were not legally supposed to,” she said.

Pay stations prove value to Raleigh Pay stations prove value to Raleigh

Handicapped placards lined up, which prevented parking turnover. But Dombalis says there has been a transformation in recent weeks that she credits to the new parking stations. Now, all drivers must pay to park.

“You can usually find a parking space right on our street,” she said.

The old Raleigh parking ordinance was intended to protect the disabled, but it backfired with abuse.

Since 2006, a series of WRAL investigations found questionable use of the tags, including a woman who walked away gracefully in high heels and another using her father's placard for all-day, free parking.

“I think the early abuse was the combination of two things – one of convenience to be able to park close to where they want to go and also the fact that parking was free,” said Raleigh Parking Administrator Gordon Dash.

Under pressure from downtown businesses desperate for parking turnover, Raleigh city councilors took away the financial incentive when they installed pay stations. Those with placards can still park all day, but the stations now require that they pay.

Raleigh parking enforcement agent Chip Murphy says using the pay stations has been a  learning process for visitors to downtown.

There are fewer vehicles with placards parking on downtown streets, he said.

Don Carter, owner of the Capital Bank building on Fayetteville Street, pushed for pay stations in the hopes that it would free-up short term spaces.

“As soon as they had to start paying, it went away,” Carter said. “The only group that ended up losing were those that were abusing the system with all day parking, using the placard as a front.”

Many with placards were not abusing the system, such as Gail Lashock. She spoke with WRAL News two years ago and said her priority was an accessible space.

“If we have to pay, we have to pay. That's my attitude, just like anybody else. But, I do need that spot,” she said.

The pay stations not only increased parking turnover. They've also increased revenue for the city. Dash says downtown meters averaged $8,200 a month. The 82 pay stations now in place average more than $24,000 for the same period. Raleigh plans tol more than double the number of pay stations to cover outlying downtown streets.

Parking administrators say many drivers with handicapped hang tags are migrating to areas where pay stations aren’t yet installed. On Wilmington Street near the North Carolina History Museum, five of seven cars parked there displayed placards on one recent afternoon.

Around the pay stations, though, it's a new world. Downtown business owners and drivers said they are seeing something they haven't seen in years – available parking.

30 Comments

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  • mtnmama May 14, 3:51 p.m.

    atom_ant---You are grossly underinformed (I'm applying restraint here). Many drugs, including chemo, steroids and others, severely alter metabolic processes and can cause the body to STOP FUNCTIONING NORMALLY, so whereas diet & exercise work for most people, you cannot apply that flawed logic to certain people with certain medical conditions or who take certain meds. Either you are a vendictive, know-it-all jerk, or just plain ignorant. It's funny that this board is full of comments debating who is handicapped and who is not, all the while folks with such limited knowledge on a subject actually believe they are contributing some measure of value with their condescending, arrogant stupidity. No doubt here as to whether you're challenged, but yours is an intellectual handicap. No pacard required...your comments are self identifying.

  • boatrokr May 14, 3:13 p.m.

    My mother's chemo blew her up and caused weight gain of over a hundred pounds. I hope you never have to know the torment of a disability or terminal illness, brngirl, and I will pray for your hard heart. You desperately need it.

  • boatrokr May 14, 3:10 p.m.

    Not everyone who is disabled is in a wheelchair or has an oxygen tank. People scream that you don't "look" disabled...well, what does a person with lupus or multiple sclerosis supposed to look like? Many people undergo numerous surgeries and years of therapy to walk normally, but that doesn't mean they can walk very far.

    It's not "that easy" to get one of those cards or stickers, folks. You have to prove need, so think about that before you yell curses or scratch someone's car with your keys.

  • mpheels May 14, 2:33 p.m.

    Actually, many people with permanent disabilities choose to get hang tags instead of plates so they can use it with when driving/riding in a vehicle they don't own. There are temporary/short term hang tags that are good 6-12 months, long term hang tags that are good for 5 years, and license plates that are good for 5 years.

    Many disabilities are invisible. For example, someone with a sever heart/lung condition could look "normal" and may even be able to walk from a handicap spot to the store and shop without help, but the distance from the back of the lot to the store would be enough added effort to cause problems, especially in the summer. On the other hand, I know people who need a spot for the extra space to accommodate getting in/out with a wheelchair, and don't really need to be close to the store. They would be happy to use a space in the back of the lot if it was wide enough.

  • lumberman May 14, 1:26 p.m.

    My father in law had a handicap sticker. Each time I took him to the doctor he would give it to me to use. I would instead just drop him off at the door. Then I would park in a regular space. I always said that I would feel really bad if I took a space from someone who really needed it. But I to see folks that have one pull up in a space hang the placard then sprint in to the store.

  • crystaljphillips May 14, 12:07 p.m.

    NMBound....most placard are temporary and are only issued for 1-6 months. Those that are permanent usually have a license plate. I have a 17 month old son who is disabled with Cerebral Palsy..Since he is a minor and is not the registered owner of the car we got a placard that we have to have recertified by his doctor every 5 years. Of course it is only used when he is with us and only when he utilizes his gait trainer. If we use the stroller we don't use the placard.

  • drjones74 May 14, 11:52 a.m.

    Streets are not free Tax Man.The City is under no obligation to provide any parking on streets, but in doing so assumes a cost they are passing on. At shopping centers parking is not free either. It is borne by the landlord, passed onto leases, and ultimately onto the price of whatever you purchase.

  • atom_ant May 14, 11:48 a.m.

    You're right "brngirl".
    9 times out of 10, the "handicap" is that the person is too overweight to walk any distance without huffing and puffing. Sorry for them but they are the ones who need to exercise. They should park even farther away!

    Sorry, "Thought" I don't buy that argument. It seems you have it backwards. Your dad is handicapped because he is overweight. If he really was trying, he could fight the urge to "gain weight", no matter what medication he was taking.

  • Tax Man May 14, 11:22 a.m.

    As always, I will not spend my money on merchants that do not provide me free parking. You want me to come and eat at your restaurant, then you need a parking lot that does not cost me anything. I will not go downtown Raleigh when I can go anywhere else in the County and not have to pay to park! Got one parking ticket in Raleigh many years ago and now I just don't go there! As soon as there is universal free parking downtown I will return - until then, no way! The people who choose to have businesses downtown should foot the bill for the parking, not the customers! Very simple! Plenty of venues all over Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham Counties that do not make me pay - so that is where I take my $$$$$. Paid parking is just wrong!

  • mtnmama May 14, 11:14 a.m.

    brwnigrl--Are you just being arrogantly mean, or are you REALLY ignorant to the fact that not all weight problems can be corrected by diet & exercise? Has it occurred to you that the weight problem is attributable to mobility issues? Or, are you aware that diet & exercise have little effect on weight reduction when the condition is caused by certain metabolic syndromes?

    It really is a shame that we don't have placards to identify the knowledge challenged or socially handicapped. I guess we will have to continue to identify this sector by their obvious lack of tact & information.

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