ABy Tom Conlon new parking policy designed to free up parking spaces might inconvenience drivers with disabilities who park at campus meters.
The policy limits handicapped parking to three hours in metered spots without charge. Until the policy took effect July 1, drivers displaying valid disability permits were allowed to park without charge for an unlimited time at campus parking meters.
Some of the students and visitors who use the parking spots said the policy will cause them unnecessary inconvenience, but administrators and other students said the policy is not unreasonable.
Jeremy Heyer, an elementary education junior, uses a wheelchair and has a driver for his car. The policy has not impacted him yet, but it could cause future hardship, Heyer said.
“I could see where I or another disabled person might want to attend an event that runs a little over three hours, and I’d have to come back out and have the car moved or have the driver come back an extra time,” Heyer said. “Some people in wheelchairs cannot reach the meters, even if they wanted to pay the time difference.”
Since December, Minneapolis has had a similar policy, limiting free handicapped parking to four hours at city meters.
Most U.S. cities, including St. Paul, continue to have no time limits for handicapped parking at parking meters. Some St. Paul city meters are restricted to 15 minutes or one hour, and those restrictions apply to everyone.
A University study showed there were excess handicapped parking spots in ramps and surface lots and a shortage of metered spots for everyone, said Lori Ann Vicich, marketing manager for campus Parking and Transportation Services.
“We felt this policy would address everyone’s concerns,” Vicich said.
Laurie Scheich, associate vice president of auxiliary services, said she approved the policy after Parking and Transportation Services recommended it. Auxiliary services helps provide students with disabilities access to textbooks, computers and campus buildings.
“It was a hard issue of give and take, but we felt it would create more parking options for everyone while still providing options for those needing disability services,” Scheich said.
Roberta Juarez, assistant director of the University’s Disability Services said the office will work with students with disabilities to find convenient contract spots. Students would have to pay a fee for contract spots.
Parking spots at pay lots, ramps and covered garages range from $56.25 to $110 per month, regardless of disability status, Vicich said.
Contract spots are not an option for campus visitors such as math junior Erica Olson’s mother, Kathy. Kathy drives her mother, who cannot walk long distances, to campus to visit Erica. The free meter parking has been helpful when they join Erica for lunch or other campus events, Kathy said.
“If it’s less than three hours, we’re okay, but it will greatly inconvenience us when it is necessary to stay longer,” Olson said. “I really think the issue is more about revenue than freeing up parking.”
Other University students have mixed feelings about whether the policy unfairly targets those on campus with disabilities.
Lisa Scott, a child psychology graduate student said the policy inconveniences a vulnerable group of people.
“It hurts people with disabilities, period,” Scott said.
However, Tracey Delaney, an astrophysics doctoral student said she was unsure if the policy would have much impact.
“Just because you are handicapped shouldn’t mean you pay more or less than anyone else,” Delaney said. “It does make sense to make more space available to everyone on a fair basis, but I’d need to see specific data to see if that’s a valid reason for the policy.”
Tom Conlon is a freelance writer.
The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]