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Politics

Should Parking Rules Favor the Handicapped?

It's reasonable to give the disabled a longer parking limit than others, but they should pay the same as everyone else.

Q. For many years, motorists with a parking tag for the handicapped hanging from their mirror have been allowed to park free all day at any meter in my city. Do you think this is a justifiable freebie?

SEE ALSO: The Money and Ethics Quiz

A. No, I don’t. I believe that legitimately handicapped drivers are owed a good supply of parking spaces convenient to the entrances of places where they work, shop and enjoy their leisure. And it’s reasonable to give them a longer parking limit than others might get, plus meters that are wheelchair-accessible and take credit cards. But the disabled should pay the same as everyone else.

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As a general principle of ethics, most government subsidies should be means-tested -- that is, based on the beneficiary’s financial need. We shouldn’t equate being handicapped with being poor. Handicapped people generally don’t park free at commercial garages or ride mass transit free, so why a freebie at publicly owned street spaces?

Parking in urban areas is a highly valuable commodity, and free, all-day parking for the handicapped has led to three bad situations in many cities: a proliferation of undeserved parking permits, abetted by overly cooperative physicians (and perhaps dishonest civil servants); the improper lending or renting of permits to able-bodied family members and friends; and the theft of parking permits for sale on the black market. Activists for the handicapped note that fraudulent use of permits makes it hard for legitimate users to find the parking they need.

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All of this has led to investigations and revision of parking rules in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. (The municipal revenue crunch of the Great Recession also played a role, as it prompted cities to calculate the lost income.)

In Washington, before free parking for vehicles with handi­capped permits was recently abolished, virtually all the metered spaces on streets surrounding some federal office buildings were filled with cars displaying handicapped permits, many of which were suspect. Putting a price on this parking greatly reduced abuses of the system.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

This column first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more help with your personal finances and investments, please subscribe to the magazine. It might be the best investment you ever make.

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