On an average day in downtown Houston, 450 parking meters are occupied by vehicles who don't have to pay. That's because those vehicles have a disabled parking permit.
Widespread use of the placards raises the age-old question about their abuse. Don Pagel is deputy director of the city's Parking Management Department.
"The bulk of those, as much as 80-percent of those are there all day long, which indicates that they're employees in the downtown area, and they're using the free parking, rather than have to pay parking like the rest of everybody else has to do. If we kind of worked that out from just meter revenue, it could be somewhere in the half million dollar range per year."
Ana Calvo, chairwoman of the City of Houston’s Commission on Disabilities, reads changes made regarding handicapped parking
Ana Calvo chairs the city's Commission on Disabilities. Despite being born with no arms or legs, she drives an adapted van. She says parking placard abuse is not a victimless crime.
"I am a citizen with a disability, and I often come to the city to do some business and too find it difficult for parking."
Mayor Annise Parker says the city is serious about adhering to guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide accessible parking. It's invested over a million dollars to increase accessible parking spaces in the central business district.
"We weren't just satisfied with just meeting ADA guidelines. We've expanded the number of curbside accessible spaces from 45 in 2005, to 180 spaces today, and we'll be constructing 20 more spaces during the next fiscal year, ten near the Dynamo stadium and ten in Midtown."
As a result, stepped up enforcement will begin, to make sure that those who truly need the accessible spaces are using them. Beginning October 8, Parker says vehicles with a disabled parking placard will be allowed access to metered spaces free for the first two hours. After that, they will be ticketed.
"The time limit is critical. But the enforcement involves having a peace officer when you pop your hang tag out and you get out of your car, to ask you for you ID, to confirm that the hang tag matches the ID, and that its legitimately being used."
The city recently increased the fine for illegally parking in a space for the disabled from 205 to 500 dollars.
Yet, Ana Calvo realizes that people with disabilities will always be fighting for equal access.
"We have come a long way in the past ten years. I do understand and do see that there is a lot that we still need to do."
More changes will come at year's end, following a review of signage, meter hours and parking fees.