Disabled motorists will not have to pay to park after all, the Alexandria City Council decided Tuesday, reversing its stance on the potential all may park, all must pay policy.
City Hall came under fire from the disabled community when the transportation department began overhauling Alexandrias parking structure last year. The new model would cut down on illegal use of handicapped permits by revoking free meters and extended time limits for the disabled while raising $133,000 annually, city officials said.
But activists said the would-be policy was balanced on the backs of disabled residents, breaking with Alexandrias longstanding tradition of accessibility.
Im all for cutting the abuse, but you dont cut the abuse by eliminating [benefits for the handicapped], Chuck Beanaugh, chair of the Alexandria omission on Persons with Disabilities told the Times last year. There certainly is abuse of the placards or tags Im not denying that at all but some of the estimates on the amount of the abuse are grossly exaggerated.
Those estimates came from what Vice Mayore Kerry Donley now calls an anecdotal study by the Alexandria Police Department. But at one point officials drew heavily on the study, sending state lawmakers to Richmond with the data as ammo before redacting it.
We listened to the concerns of the disabled community and they listed some valid concerns, said Abi Lerner, deputy director of the transportation department. There are a number of disabled persons who were going to be significantly affected financially and some of them need parking near their employment, so were eliminating the financial burden.
To reduce abuse, the transportation department will create a cost-neutral, two-year pilot program in which city-issued permits would be distributed to disabled workers without access to parking, as long as they have proof. The pass would likely allow 12 hours of free parking in metered and non-metered spaces for disabled motorists.
For Benaugh, its an unsurprising victory.
The city has a well-deserved reputation as being the most successful disabled-friendly city, Benaugh said. We had anticipated, frankly, that the council would continue that tradition.
At least one elected official challenged the idea. Councilman Paul Smedberg was skeptical of the citys enforcement ability.
Im not convinced this will do anything how are we going to legitimately say to someone that has a placard or a plate from the District, Maryland or Virginia, No, you cant park here?
The city stands to lose a significant portion of the projected revenue, which was drawn into this years budget, Mayor Bill Euille said. But revenue was never the driver stopping abuse of the system was, according to Lerner.