An intense investigation and sting by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation apparently struck fear into the hearts of hordes of students faking a disability to score free parking on meters near Los Angeles City College.

A ticket for being a wank starts at $363 and will change the behavior of just about anyone.

The city responded after Los Angeles Collegian, the campus paper, exposed widespread disabled placard abuse in Fall 2012, in which students were apparently borrowing — and in some cases believed to be stealing — placards from disabled people:

Credit: Courtesy of Keoni Cabral

Credit: Courtesy of Keoni Cabral

Students were using the placards to grab free spots at 55 choice metered parking spots on Heliotrope and Willowbrook avenues right near the college.

According to the DMV, up to 40 percent of disabled placards are fraudulent in any area it investigates in Los Angeles. But at LACC, it was much worse: placard fraud was being used to dominate about 60 percent of the metered parking.

After the city cracked down, the number of cars using handicapped placards on Heliotrope and Willowbrook plummeted to 20 percent.

“They can be hard to spot,” Campus Police Cadet Roberto Flores told the Collegian. “You don't know if someone is disabled by looking at them. We have to run their plates and go by the registered driver description. If it doesn't match, they pursue the problem.”

“They [DOT] called to let us know they were here [in early April] for a sting. They are definitely helping with the problem.”

For the past few years, some students used the metered parking almost as their personal reserved spaces, free of tickets and free of charge. Typically about 45 of the 55 spots were taken by the “disabled.”

Now, it's about 12 spaces daily.

One student using a placard illegally told the campus paper:

“I put up the thing [placard] up and that's because of the lame job the school does with providing parking for students. I don't want to pay $40 a week to park and go to class. I know it is wrong, but so are the prices the school gives for parking permits. I'm just not going to pay.”

In fact, parking permits for students at LACC are only $20 — for a full semester.

Fake claims by students of being disabled to score great parking is also common near Glendale College and East Los Angeles Community College.

But the ritzy adult types engage in this embarrassing behavior as well — officials say downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills are two favorite areas of abuse by the not-at-all disabled.

Sgt. Kimmi Porter from DOT says that the city's crackdowns have begun curbing the problem. She sent this statement to the Collegian :

The following are the total number of [placard] confiscations, citations and contacts for this month (April 1, 2013 to the present). The stings were conducted in the Valley, Hollywood, Southern and Western Parking Enforcement areas.

Contacts: 49

Citations: 34

Confiscations: 19

Donald Shoup, UCLA urban planning professor, has been studying placard abuse solutions in other states. In Virginia, cities like Arlington and Alexandria attached signs on meters reading “All May Park, All Must Pay” — including the disabled. They also created meters only for disabled drivers, but with no price cuts.

Cities that adopted such ideas saw revenue loss from placard abuse drop dramatically.

Based on Shoup's data, it might be time for the Los Angeles City Council and California State Legislature to catch up with those cities.

But Shoup has an even more radical idea: The DMV could end the disabled placard system entirely, and the city could start a system in which the extra meter revenue generated by that change is used to subsidize other ways to help disabled drivers.

Shoup envisions a plan in which, “spending the full subsidy to provide paratransit services or taxi vouchers for everyone with disabilities seems much fairer than wasting 90 percent of it to provide free parking for able-bodied placard abusers.”

DOT says it will continue to enforce metered parking around Los Angeles City College and students can expect future, random sting operations.

To read the original investigative series by The Collegian, go here: Disabled Placard Abuse at LACC

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