Plan to charge disabled for parking under fire

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Residents crying foul over a proposal to charge disabled residents the same parking meter rates as the non-disabled have city officials thinking again about the plan.
    
Though initially discussed in June, the City Council wont make a final ruling until after a November 13 public hearing. Until then drivers displaying handicap tags can park for up to four hours at a time without paying a dime.
    
One of the things that we have seen in Alexandria is that parking is really being utilized quite heavily and thats a good thing, but the problem is parking in right of way doesnt seem to be turning over, said Rich Baier, director of Transportation and Environmental Services.
    
Coupled with widespread abuse of handicap parking spots throughout the city and efforts to steer visitors to public or private garages, the all may park, all must pay proposal needs consideration, Baier said. Its one of many options council members are reviewing, he said.
    
Its very difficult and not something we take lightly, Baier said. We have to look at it from all sides. Its a difficult issue.  
    
But Chuck Benagh, chair of Alexandrias Commission on Persons with Disabilities, believes charging the handicapped will give the city a bad image and punish the disabled. Despite alternative plans to ease making parking payments, Benagh argues becoming only the second jurisdiction to charge the handicapped for parking in the Commonwealth after Arlington isnt the notoriety the city wants.  
    
We have a reputation as a caring community and this flies in the face of that, he said. I think we have a lot more going for us if were known as disabled friendly, instead of restricting rights.
    
Parking already is a challenge for the disabled, Benagh said. In a city where less than 2 percent of all spots are designated handicapped, why make it more difficult, he said. 
    
The commission sent Mayor Bill Euille and city council members a letter calling for a swift and decisive rejection of the proposal on October 15. Vice Mayor Kerry Donley understands limited handicapped parking is already a problem and wants the city to raise the number closer to 2 percent. 
    
He remains concerned about the abuse of existing handicapped spots. A recent sweep conducted by city police found as much as 90 percent of handicapped parking spots were occupied by non-disabled motorists. 
    
One thing I was surprised about was the amount of abuse, he said. A quick survey showed a tremendous amount of abuse, which doesnt serve the handicap community. Its an issue that is probably worthy of consideration.
    
About 508 tickets have been issued for illegally parking in a handicapped spot since the fine rose to $500, according to Benagh. Punishing the disabled for the abuses of others doesnt make sense to him.He called it an enforcement issue.
    
Still, all may park, all must pay enjoys support. Councilman Frank Fannon wants to make paying as accessible as possible for the handicapped, but everyone should pay.
    
Benagh remains hopefully the council will kill the proposal after hearing from the disabled community. He prefers public transportation himself, but if he needed to take the car out of the garage, parking shouldnt be a concern, Benagh said.  
    
Im hopeful. Im hopeful people will recognize the value of having a disabled friendly reputation. Weve worked hard to get that, he said. This is the kind of thing our community wants to work for, more inclusion, not less inclusion.

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