Disabled drivers used to be able to park in the city for free and for as long as they wanted. But widespread abuse by people who were using fraudulent or expired handicap placards to avoid parking costs prompted the city to change policies and begin to charge handicapped drivers. The city agreed to put in the red-top meters, reserved for the disabled, which give twice as much time for the same price as a regular meter, cutting the cost of parking for disabled drivers in half.
This month, DDOT installed 400 of the red-top meters, which critics said was not enough.
"There is no special accommodation for people who are disabled except at the red tops, and that is very few relative to the need," said Councilwoman Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, who is among those criticizing DDOT's decision to start charging before it had enough red-top meters to accommodate all disabled drivers. "Why would you roll it out in a way that relegates people who are disabled to just the ordinary meter when they don't get any special accommodation?"
The complaints prompted DDOT to rush the installation of the additional meters. By mid-April, 9 percent of all of the District's parking meters will be reserved for the handicapped. That's the equivalent of one reserved space every two blocks, officials said.
"We realized that by the time we had rolled out the first red-top meters, it was not enough to serve the greater community, so we needed to accelerate our plan," DDOT spokeswoman Monica Hernandez said.
Some advocates for the disabled said the plan to install more meters fails to address a more pressing problem: Many disabled drivers live on a fixed income and can't afford to pay for parking, even at reduced rates.
"Asking those who are disproportionately likely to be on a fixed income ... to pay what amounts to a new disabled parking tax is unjust and unworthy of our nation's capital," said Maureen Normann, Ward 6 representative for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.