SFMTA spot-checking blue disabled placards on Clement & Geary today

Cub reporter David H. came upon some plainclothes SFMTA officers on Clement Street who are in the neighborhood today enforcing the blue disabled placards on cars.

The blue placards, which are issued to people with disabilities, exempts a driver from paying a parking meter for up to 72 hours (that’s any parking meter, not just ones in blue spaces).

In San Francisco, that can save $55 or more a day in parking costs. California is one of just five states that provide disabled-placard holders with free, virtually unlimited parking.

In November, the Chronicle reported that there were 60,750 placards held by drivers in the city in 2012. That’s twice as many as were registered in 2001, and is more than double the number of metered spaces that actually exist in San Francisco (28,000).

The abuse of these placards is a long-time problem for the city. A 2008 Muni report found that almost half the cars in downtown metered spaces had blue placards hanging from their rear-view mirrors.

A 2014 report from the City Controller’s office reported an estimated $22.7 million in lost meter revenue in 2013. Not to mention the abuse makes parking even harder for those disabled drivers who have valid placards.

So it’s no surprise that the SFMTA allocates officers and time to spot-check placards, trying to catch abuse as it’s happening. Officers visit different parts of the city several days a week, pulling up placard numbers at parking meters to see if they’re valid. A placard may be phony, expired or even stolen.

During their enforcement today, SFMTA officers had no problem finding violators. They issued 10 citations alone on Clement, and one officer told David that they estimate about 50% of the placards being used city-wide are invalid.

Abusing a placard is expensive – a citation costs the car owner $1,000, but catching them can be time-consuming and costly to city resources.

David chatted with a SFMTA officer while he waited for an owner of a car that was using a placard that had been stolen from someone born in 1929.

On one block of Clement, David observed 3 metered parking spaces that had cars with blue placards parked in them.

“Clement Street is placard heaven,” the SFMTA officer said.

Sarah B.


  1. Good for DPW! I see this everywhere and it makes me so mad that people are able to get away with it.

    Last week when I left the service center at SF Toyota at every meter on the block on the south side between 4th & 5th on Geary St was a car with a disabled placard. I said something about it when I went to pick up my car and they told me it has been like that for several months and most of the cars don’t move all day.

    Two weeks ago while walking down the south side of Irving between 20th Ave and 26th Ave I counted 31 disabled placards on cars parked at meters – 6 of them between 21st & 22nd.

  2. People who abuse these placards are the lowest form of scum – it’s dispiriting to know there are so many of them around.

  3. Apologies – it is actually SFMTA doing this enforcement, not DPW. Correction made.

    Sarah B.

  4. YEA SFMTA! So happy to know you do this around the city, and are hitting all the idiots on Clement who use them illegally. My mom had one & it was really helpful for getting her places, but there is so much abuse that people who really need the benefits often can’t use them.

  5. “catching them can be time-consuming and costly to city resources.”

    At $1000 a pop, it looks as though, from the info in the article, that enforcement would more than pay for itself.

  6. The thing that frosts me the most about disabled placard use is that many of them are on relatively newer/ higher-end vehicles. That’s not to say that you can’t be disabled and drive a very nice vehicle but that my primary perception of “worthy” disabled placard vehicles is that they often belong to disabled and elderly people, who typically don’t rush out and get a new vehicle frequently. Hopefully, the enforcement effort will pay particular attention to those likely most “worthy” of enforcement.

  7. I am not surprised at the estimate of 50% of placards being invalid and am glad to finally see some enforcement after decades of abuse. This is the first I have heard of any enforcement, is our neighborhood a trial before expansion to other areas?

  8. @Richmond Resident – Let’s just put it this way, I don’t think i’ve EVER seen someone with a disabled placard who looked like they actually needed one. I was once violently cut off by someone with a placard who was frustrated that I was taking too long to pull into a parking space – the guy was about 40 and looked like a ‘burner’ – I saw him ably walking into a burrito joint afterwards.

  9. That’s great that the SFMTA does something about the handicap placard violators. What would really be interesting is to see them also do it around the MUNI bus yards and around City Hall though. I always see tons of them around those spots but I don’t have high hopes for it.

  10. @richmondresident and @joan, while I agree there are many who do abuse placards, their are several people who have invisible disabilities (yes this is a real term). Just BC they are not limping, in a wheelchair, or on crutches, does not mean they are not experiencing chronic extreme pain, all day and everyday. My husband is one of these individuals. In his thirties, but has already had 3 hip surgeries including a hip replacement.you wouldn’t know it by looking at him, by he is in pain all the time. He may look normal walking, but every step is painful.

  11. Can’t they just put a boot on the offending car, where it doesn’t get moved until the owner pays up?

  12. Here’s an idea I’ve though worthwhile to address both issues: Allow placards to either A) not pay once for the posted time limit, which could be monitored just like all other spots with tire chalk, or B) pay for/feed the meter for as long as they want over the posted time limit (which would address the proximity issue).

    Option A would provide ability to use any spot open, just as it currently does, and Option B would address the revenue/abuse issue. Allowing for both is what leads to this sort of rampant abuse of the placards in the first place. Let me know what you think.

  13. Some of The City employees are the first people they need to check. If go around the SFMTA HQ you find just outside the front door city workers abusing the disable placards. So about every other person that’s doing it.

  14. SFMTA City employees are the first people that need to checked. If I go around the SFMTA HQ you will find just outside the front door city workers abusing the disable placards. observed this everyday from 11th street and Market and near Goodwill and around the South Van Ness corridor in front of SFMTA building. Who’s checking the checkers …

  15. Just because you are ‘disabled’, doesn’t make you poor. People with placards should be required to pay for parking too. Regular poor people have to pay. That would cut out 90% of the fraud. If that is to big of a change in policy, give the disabled a 50% off discount. Parking meters are computerized now (and rates can changed based on time of day, congestive pricing) so they should be able to program a 50% rate for the disabled as well. The end result, much less fraud.

  16. Some very good ideas @Evans.

    I agree that disability placards should provide free parking only, no time extensions or workarounds such as endless feeding of the meter.

    If a vehicle with a disability placard monopolizes any parking space it denies the right to park there to another vehicle with a disability placard. Lets make our parking regulations provide parking availability to all disability placards, not only those that got their first.

  17. Please use the “Parking Mobility” app to turn in placard cheaters wherever you see them.

    The truly disabled thank you.

  18. It is true that people cannot always tell who is truly disabled. I have a friend who has had several surgeries on her knee and she’s under 40. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her but she deals with a lot of pain when she has to walk more than a block. That being said, sometimes it is easy to tell when someone is just BSing. As an example, I was leaving the Safeway on 7th when a newish BMW pulled into one of the handicap spots. A young lady in her 20s and in nurse’s clothing popped out and jogged into the store. While I can’t be 100% certain that she doesn’t need the placard, I wouldn’t bet money against it…

  19. There are several factual errors in the article
    (A.The 60,000 Disabled Permits are issued to San Francisco RESIDENTS, not Drivers. There are some people who never drive, are not licensed to drive and infrequently or never utilize the permits.
    (B. The projections for lost revenue are hypothetical. The SFMTA projection assumes that blue permit holders take up spaces all day. The figure $55 per day is based on expensive meters downtown and South of Market.Look at some areas which charge $4.50 or more per hour and you will see(surprise)
    empty spaces.

  20. Wow – are they going to ticket the black Muni driver who illegally parks his car at Van Ness & Pacific every day? What about the cars and monster trucks illegally parked outside the Chinatown Firestation #2?

    SFMTA is a joke.

  21. The placard is not just for the driver, it can be used to drive a person that is legally disabled. So keep an eye out on the person they are driving too.

  22. There is nothing to keep a relative or friend from driving a car with a disabled placard even if they aren’t disabled themselves. My father has/needs one but they live in Mexico half the year and if I was a different person I could be using his car for six months a year to park anywhere, anytime, for as long as I want for free. So, I have to imagine that as long as the placard is registered to the rightful owner how is the SFMTA discerning whether it is being legally used? The above example is one way to get around that issue. Also, no reason to park for free all day. A parking app allows you to pay from your car and “feed” the meter from wherever you are with a five minute warning on the original expiration which takes away one of the original reasons to not charge for parking. A person doesn’t have to go back to the car to “feed” it.

  23. Adriana –

    I’m sorry but you’re wrong. The handicap placard is only valid if the person who the placard is issued to is in the car with you or you are driving them specifically to a place. As an example, if you’re driving your own car and taking a person with a placard to a hospital visit/errands/etc. then you can use the placard. If you’re running an errand for them or just driving their car, then it’s not.

    I think there was an example on one of the old police blotters on this site. IIRC, the police saw a person with a placard park in a handicap spot. They spoke to the driver who said the person whose placard it was was inside a nearby building. The cops then told the driver that they would all go and speak to the owner of the placard. Needless to say, s/he was lying and was cited.

  24. Mike, I think you misunderstood me. I understand that the person using the placard is the only person legally entitled to use it unless someone else is driving that person around and then that person needs to be available as “proof” if you will. I do remember the incident you are referring to. I guess I was trying to understand what the SFMTA is looking for when they are looking to cite illegal users. I mean if there are just a bunch of cars (as other comments here have described) with placards hanging on their rear view mirrors, how does SFMTA know whether those are being used legally or not?

  25. Adriana –

    My apologies for misunderstanding your earlier post. From my experience there are several ways SFMTA (or the police) do to see if a person is misusing a placard. 1 – The police are on patrol and see someone getting into or out of a HP (handicap placard) car and contact them. 2 – They do stings. I saw one on the news where SFMTA people were waiting at the ballpark to see who parked in handicap spaces and contact the driver. 3 (rare but I have heard of it) – They run the numbers of the HP and see if it is legit or stolen. Hope that helps.

  26. I’m glad to see SMFTA trying to clean this up. I hope the crackdown continues and only increases. I would like to see the car boot with a $1000 citation. and Handicap people should have to pay for meters just like anyone else. I think that is only fair. I’m cool with handicap folks getting priority seating and parking spots, that makes sense.

  27. The enforcement problem stems from average citizens having no way to tell who a placard belongs to. So there is virtually no way citizens can report placard abuse. Citizens can only report those parking in a reserved space that have no disabled placard or plate.

    What is needed is a way to look up gender and birth year information. This information should be displayed on the placard and their should be a way to look up the information given a placard number or license plate number. Then citizens could assist in reporting obvious placard abuse. Like when male is using a females placard or a 30 year old is using a 70 year old’s placard.

  28. I was by the post office on pine street near Polk. I saw this lady had two kids wrestling with one kid trying to put him in the suv, she didn’t look disabled to me, unless she had cancer or something that I couldn’t see. I see these placards all over Richmond, sunset and china town. specially on Geary and clement street. I actually have a disability and qualified for a placard I don’t apply because I feel like somebody else deserve it more than me. It is not right to abuse our system. If you want our placard then may the good lord give you our disability as well.

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