State may end free parking for most disabled drivers

OLYMPIA -- Having a disabled parking pass may no longer guarantee free parking in our state. A state panel wants to eliminate the privilege to reduce fraud, which is getting mixed reaction from drivers.

Ever since his fiancee's hip surgery, Bill Regnissah has had access to a temporary disabled parking placard. He says it makes all the difference in downtown Seattle.

"I had to drop her off two blocks away just to get this spot," Regnissah said.

More than 700,000 disabled parking placards are in use statewide. They offer unlimited free parking where meters operate but that pass may soon end.

"To add another burden to the handicap people is just ridiculous," Regnissah said.

A state panel says too many drivers are abusing the placards. The panel says requiring pass-holders to still feed the meters could reduce the fraud. The proposal makes sense to John Torpey.

"I like the idea that there's spots reserved for them if they need them, but i think they should pay like everybody else," Torpey said.

In a random check of downtown Seattle, KOMO 4 found at least eight cars sporting disabled placards on single block. Those parking spaces never opened up while we were there, and those drivers never fed the meters.

"I agree that there's probably some fraud of people using handicap placards that aren't necessarily handicapped," said Amanda Brown, who had come downtown to shop. However, Brown says despite the abuse, forcing the disabled to pay for parking isn't the answer.

"The economic impact of that is going to be minimal compared to what it could do to handicapped people who actually need to have parking spaces accessible," Brown said.

The state panel says people who can't physically reach a pay machine should continue to get the free parking pass. Drivers say the panel should consider other exemptions to be fair.

"Should they pay if they are military, ex-military?" Torpey asked. "no. They paid their price."

The state legislature takes up the panel's report in January. If they embrace these ideas, actual changes could still be years away.