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Windshield warning aims to stop disabled parking cheats

The state's new 'meter-exempt' disability-parking placards will be distributed starting next year. They are expected drastically reduce number able-bodied cheaters

The state's new "meter-exempt" disability-parking placards will be distributed starting next year. They are expected to drastically reduce the number of able-bodied cheaters who use placards to park for free.

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Updated: September 20, 2013 6:13AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration this week will take a creative approach to deter able-bodied people from illegally parking for free at meters using disabled-parking placards.

City finance department employees will be canvassing streets downtown and placing fliers that resemble traffic tickets on the cars of drivers who hang placards in metered zones. The leaflets will warn that:

◆ Come Jan. 1, a new state law will eliminate free metered parking for people who have regular blue or red placards or disability license plates — and that only those who have obtained new gray and yellow “meter-exempt permanent placards” will be able to park free.

◆ Able-bodied drivers caught using placards or disability license plates to park free are subject to fines of up to $1,000 and can have their vehicles impounded.

The city’s decision to leaflet motorists this week comes as Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is renewing about 700,000 placards statewide that don’t expire until next year. Because the new placards, which will expire in 2018, are starting to go out, there are more placards in circulation than usual — and more potential for abuse.

The law that led to the meter-exempt placard was prompted by a 2011 Chicago Sun-Times investigation. The newspaper, partnering with retired Chicago Police Lt. Robert Angone, found widespread abuse of free disability parking at meters in Chicago, including dozens of cases of able-bodied drivers using relatives’ placards, fake placards and stolen placards to avoid feeding parking payboxes.

The abuses have cost Chicago taxpayers millions of dollars in reimbursements to Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the private company running metered parking citywide under the meter-privatization deal championed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. The deal requires City Hall to reimburse the company for free parking provided to drivers displaying disability placards or plates. Those payments have soared to a total of nearly $55 million since the company began running the meter system in 2009 and started to sharply raise meter rates.

The law that takes effect next year allows free metered parking only for drivers whose doctors attest that they cannot do one of the following:

◆ Feed parking payboxes or meters “due to the lack of fine motor control of both hands.”

◆ Feed payboxes or meters because they need to use a wheelchair.

◆ Reach above their heads “to a height of 42 inches above the ground.”

◆ “Walk more than 20 feet due to an orthopedic, neurological, cardiovascular or lung condition.”

Email: cfusco@suntimes.com

Twitter: @FuscoChris



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