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D.C. would raise $1.5m by charging disabled for parking

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Photo - A vehicle parked displaying a handicapped parking sign outside a Giant grocery store in Washington D.C., Fri, May 11, 2012
A vehicle parked displaying a handicapped parking sign outside a Giant grocery store in Washington D.C., Fri, May 11, 2012
Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

The District could take in about $1.5 million a year from handicapped drivers once it starts requiring them to pay for parking that once was free.

The red-top meter program -- which still needs D.C. Council approval -- would force all people with disability placards to pay for parking for the first time. But the program would also reserve 1,800 special meters -- signified by a painted red top -- for those drivers and levy stiff fines against any able-bodied driver who parks in those spaces.

The District's chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, released an analysis Monday showing the District would collect $1.5 million every year through the red-top meters and by charging disabled drivers who use other spaces. But half of that cash --about $800,000 per year -- will be used to cover the 45-cent fee that disabled drivers would be charged each time they paid for parking by phone. That was a perk for which the disabled lobbied.

District officials started the red-top program to cut down on the fraudulent use of handicapped placards by drivers who were parking all day long for free.

District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle said the red-top program wasn't designed to turn a profit for the city.

"In parts of the city where today you just can't find a parking space because it's taken up by people using placards, there are going to be spaces. That to us is the benefit," Lisle said.

Advocates for people with disabilities have criticized the red-top program as an attempt by the city to raise revenue by charging some of its most vulnerable residents. Any money produced by the program should be used to benefit the disabled, advocates said.

"My only thought is that they better be putting at least that amount of money for programs for the disabled in D.C. It should go to MetroAccess," said Maureen Norman, an advocate for people with multiple sclerosis.

The money will instead go to funds that pay for bus service and other noncar transportation.

The D.C. Council is expected to vote on the red-top program on Dec. 18.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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