An ordinance granting drivers with handicap placards to park at any meter in the downtown business district for free for two hours received preliminary approval from the city council on Tuesday evening.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said he introduced the ordinance after hearing complaints from elderly residents about parking in the downtown area. A lot of seniors, particularly handicapped seniors, have difficulty shopping in city’s main business corridor due to a parking arrangement, where they must feed the parking meter every two hours.
“I’m a firm believer that anybody who has a physical handicap should be granted those types of considerations,” said Tony Perez, director of the Paterson Parking Authority. Perez said he fully supports the idea, but admitted enforcing a two-hour limit might be a bit difficult.
“Where it might get a little tricky is on the enforcement side, and determining how long that vehicle has been there,” said Perez. The authority, which controls the parking meters, does not have a mechanism in place that can determine how long a vehicle has been at a parking spot. Meter maids often walk about the streets issuing tickets to expired meters, but do not know how long a car was at that particular meter.
The director also said placards are sometimes abused for parking benefits. “Where we have issues are these handicap placards, some might be expired or no longer be assigned to that particularly individual,” said Perez. “We have a significant number of them that are being used unlawfully.”
Perez said the placards are used in transport vehicles of individuals with handicaps, but drivers who suffer from a handicap are often issued a handicap license plate. The director indirectly suggested it might be wise to go based on handicap license plates rather than placards.
Placards are also forged and printed by lawbreakers easily with high-tech printers, said Perez.
Morris last week stated that small loss of revenue for the authority will be offset by more consumers patronizing downtown businesses. When asked how much of an impact the ordinance will have on the authority’s revenues, Perez said it will be minimal.
“I don’t think it’s going to be significant,” said Perez, “because of the fact there’s limited enforcement right now.”
The director pointed out that a state law already permits a placard holding driver to leave his vehicle at a meter after feeding it to the maximum for 24 hours. Perez cited a document from the New Jersey Department of Human Services which cites C.39:4-207. The state law is specific about meters reading: “Parking overtime by driver of motor vehicle with placard or wheelchair symbol license plates; no penalty.”
The ordinance before the council does not include any clauses requiring the handicap placard holder to feed the meter.
“We don’t ticket handicaps,” said Perez. “If the meter in downtown is a two-hour meter, two hours max, as long as that person puts in that two hours they can stay there for 24 hours.”
Morris plans to hold a discussion with Perez during a finance committee meeting before the ordinance, which unanimously passed first reading on Tuesday, is up for a second reading vote.