From Texas Standard:
Today, more Texans live in urban areas than ever before. In fact, 8 in 10 of us do. That’s an overwhelming majority.
Many able-bodied Texans share a common struggle – where and how to park their car. But the struggle intensifies if a driver isn’t just looking for parking, but for disability parking. In Texas, designated parking spots for people with disabilities are extremely scarce – they only account for about 2 percent of all parking spaces.
The vehicle Mack Marsh drives comes with a ramp.
“I am a person who uses a wheelchair. I have a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegias. So, I use a power wheelchair,” Marsh says. “And so, accessible parking is a very important part of my life.”
But his parking space, and the spaces that are supposed to be reserved for the 12 percent of Texans who live with a disability, is often blocked by able-bodied drivers.
Marsh has heard all the excuses. People say “it’s only gonna be a minute.” They’ll be in and out of the grocery store, they’re running late and that’s the only spot they could find.
Another culprit? Delivery trucks.
I ran into one recently. The driver – his name is Matt – is a 20-plus-year veteran in the delivery business. On the day, we met, he and another delivery driver were parked illegally in two disability parking spots at a strip mall. Their goal was to have easy access to a Postmark’d store. They quickly got to work loading up packages. Matt, who loaded big and small boxes as fast as he could, told me he runs about 200 routes a day, and almost always parks in disability parking spots, sometimes called handicap spots.
“Why do you guys park on handicapped spots?” I ask.
“Oh, for a million reasons,” Matt says. “In the majority of places, it is absolutely the safest place. Yeah, we’re supposed to do everything as safely as possible.”
As we said earlier, parking is one urban calamity that touches everyone who dives. But just as Matt, the driver said, and Mack Marsh confirmed, disabled parking spots are the safest spots. That’s why they’re reserved for people with disabilities.
“I’ve actually been to the hospital twice because of people who are parked illegally in accessible parking spaces,” Marsh says.
The first time was years ago, around Christmas. Marsh went to the mall and all the accessible spots were taken. Some, by people without disability placards.
“So, as many of us do, I parked way at the back of the lot and took up two spots at an angle in order to be able to get out my ramp out of my van,” he says.
By the time Marsh came out, it was dark. He was making his way through the parking lot when he noticed the truck in front of him started backing up.
“And, I’m not much taller than the bumper of a lot of these big trucks in Texas,” Marsh says.
The truck driver never saw Marsh.
“And, I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough and the truck ran over me,” he says.
Marsh ended up in the emergency room – not once but twice. The second time was over a separate incident. But the thing is, those accidents could’ve been prevented had he been able to park in a designated disabled parking spot.
Marsh decided to do something about it – something outside the box. He got together with some friends and they created an app called Parking Mobility.
The app, as Marsh sees it, has two goals: first, to collect data.
“One of the things that we found was that 80 percent of the citations that were being written – and there were very few written – 8 out of 10 were being dismissed,” Marsh says. “The judges felt that they were punitive. That the fines were extremely high and they are extremely high.”
Most fines are between $500 and $750, but if they pile up, they can go as high as $2,500.
The second goal of Parking Mobility is to recruit volunteers who can take a class and get certified to essentially write citations to cars that park illegally in disability parking spots. And those citations are enforceable.
“Yes, they are,” says Judge Raul Gonzalez, Justice of the Peace for Travis County Precinct 4.
He says once a citation is issued by a volunteer, it’s sent for review to a law enforcement agency.
“And then that case will be filed with the appropriate court, wherever the violation occurred,” he says.
Right now, volunteers are only operating in a handful of Central Texas counties. But the app is available to everyone. Judge Gonzalez says his dream would be that all Texas drivers take the class.
“I think a lot of people haven’t been touched personally by someone who has disabilities and so they don’t understand the reason why and so it’s not a convenience thing it is a safety thing as well,” he says.
And it’s a numbers thing. If most people in urban areas struggle to find parking, imagine what it’s like when fewer than two percent of spots are reserved for you.