by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Parking code enforcement officer Gary Shervey checked last summer the number on a disability placard on Southwest Taylor Street. New city disabled parking rules mean many drivers with disability placards still have to pay parking meters to park in downtown.Portland parking code enforcement officers issued 24 warnings to drivers who had parked cars displaying disabled driver placards in the downtown area July 1, the first day for the city's new rules governing the disabled permits.

The new rules require drivers with disabled permits to pay for their metered spaces just like other drivers. It even gives them a bonus — a driver who has parked at and paid for a one-hour meter will actually get three hours of parking before a ticket can be issued. The 24 cars with warnings had no stubs indicating their drivers had paid.

A 2009 city task force report found that 20 percent of the parked cars in the downtown retail core had disabled placards. Until the new rules went into effect last week, drivers with the permits could park in any legal street parking space for as long as they wanted and without having to pay. Many of the cars with disabled permits parked downtown and in the Lloyd Center area all day.

According to parking experts, metered parking is intended to attract short-term drivers who come downtown to shop or take care of other errands. But the glut of all-day disabled parkers indicated those cars belonged to people who have driven downtown for work, the experts say. By parking on the street those drivers have been able to avoid having to pay for the parking they would otherwise purchase in a downtown garage — until now. They have also elicited complaints from shop owners who said their customers could not find nearby parking.

A Tribune story last July revealed that a few cities had experimented with one fundamental change — requiring people with disabled permits to pay for their metered parking. Those cities found that once they required drivers with disabled permits to pay meters, cars displaying placards and staying in spaces all day virtually disappeared.

The new Portland policy, with a number of exceptions, appears to be working, judging by the low number of warnings issued last Tuesday. In fact, the absence of cars parked with disabled permits was striking, according to one enforcement officer. Equally notable was the unusual number for free curbside parking spaces.

City Bureau of Transportation work to ease the transition might be the reason, says bureau spokeswoman Diane Dulken. Five weeks ago the bureau began printing brochures explaining the changes. The brochures were placed on parked cars displaying disabled placards downtown.

“People have been amply notified,” Dulken says.

Tickets with fines — the same fines that all drivers will pay if they don't plug the meter — have not yet been issued. According to Dulken, each car that displays a disabled placard and is parked without payment will get one warning. The next time that same car is found illegally parked at a meter a ticket will be the result.

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