With Toronto seeing more abuse of disabled parking permits, it may get tougher to get one

Toronto city council has been asked to urge the provincial government to make it tougher for people to get an accessible parking pass — a move prompted by a 25 per cent spike in tickets for abuse of those permits in 2016, according to Toronto police statistics released in February.

The city issued 16,104 tickets connected to parking permit abuse last year, up from 12,877 in 2015

Rod Lightheart, who has a disability, told CBC Toronto that he supports the idea of putting photos on accessible parking permits, saying that he's seen others abuse the limited number of spots available. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

Toronto police are calling on municipal politicians to urge the province to make it tougher to get an accessible parking pass — a move prompted by a 25 per cent spike in tickets for parking permit abuse in 2016.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders initially spearheaded the call in a letter to the police board in February, suggesting that an independent physician do the assessment for an accessible parking pass instead of having someone go to their own doctor.  

It's a system that would be similar to one used in New York City. There, permit applicants may be contacted for an independent exam if the department of transportation believes there are gaps in the medical documents submitted.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders suggested a review of the accessible parking system in February. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

The chief has also recommended that future permits include the pass holder's photo, and that the province crack down on those who don't return their temporary passes.

Council is expected to debate those recommendations this week as part of the motion to call on the provincial government for the review. Mayor John Tory's executive committee has already approved the motion, however, which is an indication that it will likely pass.

What it means

The abuse of accessible parking is a growing concern. 

The city issued 16,104 tickets connected to parking permit abuse last year, up from 12,877 in 2015.

And there's anecdotal evidence to support the climb, too. Both those in the disabled community — and a man who was illegally using his mother's parking permit on his own — noted that abuse is rampant.

'​It's abuse of something that's very, very important — something that's an integral part of our lives.' - Rod Lightheart, accessible parking user

Rod Lightheart has seen it since 2012, the year he had a stroke and qualified for accessible parking. He now uses a walker or a cane to get around and admits to becoming "very angry" when he pulls into a parking lot and sees someone who appears able-bodied taking up a reserved space.

"It's abuse of something that's very, very important — something that's an integral part of our lives," he said. "We really do need the access."

He said he would have no issues with putting his photo on the pass himself — a sentiment echoed by every person legally carrying such a pass who spoke to CBC Toronto on Wednesday — but he acknowledged others might have privacy concerns.

Toronto police issued about one quarter more tickets for accessible parking abuses in 2016 than they did the previous year, according to statistics released by the force. (CBC)

The committee that last helped design the passes actually considered including the applicant's photo on the permit, the president and owner of Disability Awareness Consultants says.

But Lauri Sue Robertson said the idea was vetoed, because there were concerns that having a photo displayed in the windshield might make an already vulnerable person a target.

"Just walking by, if someone could just look at the picture and think, 'Oh, wow, a cute girl has this sticker. I'll wait by the car and see if she's alone.'"

But Robertson, who uses canes or a wheelchair herself, said she wouldn't be concerned if only the police could see the picture. Although the chief had suggested a photo be hidden from view on the back of a permit, Robertson said the best method might be to equip officers with scanners to electronically bring up the information.  

Abusing the system?

Then there are people like Dave Dial. The 66-year-old initially told CBC Toronto that he was entitled to use the accessible parking space he sat in Wednesday, noting he had a permit for it.

In fact, Dial said that the pass was initially given to his mother two years ago, which he used when he drove her around. Initially, he said that it had been transferred into his name because he has a "back ailment" — but when he checked the reverse of the permit, it showed his mother's name.

Dave Dial, 66, was parked in an accessible spot when he showed his permit to CBC Toronto. It had his mother's name listed, but she was not in the car with him. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

"It is being transferred into my name," he amended. "We have to have the doctor put in the new forms for September. That's the holdup. I feel because I've gone through the steps, but because of all the red tape things are slow, so I feel entitled."

Dial acknowledged that he doesn't have the right to use the particular pass in his car, but said he didn't expect to change his behaviour.

And that, Coun. Joe Mihevc said, is why the system needs to change. He's the one bringing the motion for the review to council this week

"No one begrudges someone who is disabled using a spot," Mihevc said. "But when they see the misuse it really riles their sense of fair play."

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie