British Columbia

Call for crackdown on drivers who illegally park in disability stalls

“I mean, is part of parking closest to the entrance that critical for the guy that has to run in and grab a case of beer or go buy a pack of smokes?” asks Vince Miele, a Richmond-based advocate for people with disabilities.

Vancouver issued over 1,600 tickets for parking in accessible spaces in 2018; Surrey issued 24

Vince Miele is also an advocate for improved parking space design: he wants to see more accessible spaces that are wider and free of obstructions. He says Richmond is a leading-edge city in this regard. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vincel Miele feels frustration and anger when he sees an able-bodied person parking illegally in a spot designated for people with disabilities.

"For them it's a convenience, I suppose," said Miele, 69, as he drove through the parking lot of Lansdowne Centre in Richmond in his specially-designed van. 

Miele was injured in an accident at 21 and has used a wheelchair since. 

"It just takes away from someone that does need it and, in a lot of cases, can't go about their business because they can't find a parking spot where they can get in and out independently."

Miele's van lets him get out into the community independently, but he needs to park in a special, wider disability stall so he can use his van's ramp to get in and out of his vehicle.

Vince Miele, 69, was injured in an accident at 21 and has used a wheelchair since. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He wants people to know how inconsiderate it is when someone who doesn't need the spot takes it anyway.

Miele also wants to see improvements to what he calls a patchwork system of fines and enforcement in B.C.

He said rules, penalties and enforcement levels vary across Metro Vancouver.

Vancouver, for example issued more than 1,600 tickets for parking in accessible spaces in 2018, while Surrey issued 24.

Miele would also like to see tougher fines for those who violate disability parking rules, and stricter rules for disability parking on public and private property. Fines can be as low as about $60. 

'They swear'

While driving in another Richmond parking lot with CBC News, Miele spotted an able-bodied person with a disability parking decal in an accessible spot.

The driver said she was waiting for her mother, who has a disability. She was legally using the space but Vince doesn't get why she had to take the spot he needed instead of waiting somewhere else.

This Canada Post truck was spotted parked in a disability parking spot on Homer Street in Vancouver. The corporation said it has launched an internal investigation. (Eric Rankin/CBC)

"It's a problem ... mostly for people that use wheelchairs because they really depend on that wider spot," he said.

Miele spoke to the driver. The conversation went well but he said drivers can turn nasty.

"They swear. Yeah. They tell you to mind your own business," Miele said. "They tell you to, whatever off, and sometimes worse."

Vince Miele says when able-bodied people park in the wider accessible parking spaces — like the driver of this white van has done — it inconveniences people in wheelchair vans, like the one on the left. (Vince Miele)

Private lots make own rules

A Lansdowne Mall spokesperson said it enforces parking rules, especially for disability stalls. Offenders, she said, are fined or towed.

EasyPark vice-president Gary Kohr said private lots — the kind you might find at malls, grocery stores or below ground at some highrise towers — are only obligated to include a certain number of disability parking stalls.

The buildings' owners arrange enforcement, he said, and can waive tickets.

Private parking lots are only required by law to maintain a certain number of accessible spots, according to one lot operator. Enforcement of lot policies is up to the owner — who has the option to waive a ticket. (Vince Miele)

"The owner of the property will define the rules of engagement," Kohr said, adding most owners follow guidance from operating companies like EasyPark, with fines starting at about $60.

City bylaw officers have no jurisdiction over private lots, he said.

Lorraine Copas, executive director of the accessibility advocacy group SPARC BC, said police can enforce rules on private lots, if called.

A CBC News team spotted this driver on Granville Island parked in an accessible spot with no permit. The vehicle's back end encroaches onto a second accessible spot. (Ethan Sawyer/CBC)

Cities vary

Kohr would not say how many delinquent drivers his company tickets for breaking disability parking rules.

Numbers from Metro Vancouver's four largest cities show a wide disparity in numbers of tickets handed out in 2018 for offenders on city-controlled lots and on-street parkers.

Vancouver handed out the most tickets — over 1,600. Burnaby issued 138, Richmond issued 107, while Surrey handed out 24. 

A City of Surrey spokesperson explained that's because bylaw officers only actively patrol four locations in the city for violations, two of which are at city hall. 

Miele says it's not just the malls — rule-breakers are commonly seen on Richmond's streets and lots.

Richmond spokesperson Clay Adams said the city doesn't have the power to enforce disability parking rules in private lots, leaving it up to drivers and lot owners to respect the parking laws.

"It really gets down to individual drivers and how much they want to respect the legality, but also the moral element, of these kind of parking stalls."

Priorities

Miele wants to see rules for disability parking — on public and private property — better enforced, and a uniform, hefty fine to apply across B.C.

"Make it $400 as a even number," he said. "Maybe that'll get people's attention."

Most of all, he wants to see a change in attitude from some able-bodied drivers.

Vince Miele is an advocate for people with disabilities. He uses a special wheelchair-lift-equipped van that he can drive on his own. But if the wider accessible parking stalls in a lot are taken up, it's hard for him to deploy the ramp and get out of the van. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I mean, is part of parking closest to the entrance that critical for the guy that has to run in and grab a case of beer or go buy a pack of smokes?" he asked.

"I think they should give ... their heads at least one shake. Maybe two or more."

With files from Eric Rankin and Paisley Woodward

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