Amended disabled parking laws go unnoticed

The City of Cape Town pays lip service to the needs of the disabled.

A statement last year by Mzwakhe Nqavashe, chairperson of the portfolio committee for safety and social services, gives the lie to the municipality’s attitude to people with special needs.

Mr Nqavashe said, “We have a responsibility to ensure that persons with disabilities are afforded their full human rights… Too often we exclude them from conversations and decisions about their lives, when they have a voice that deserves to be heard.”

After a public participation process in 2009, the municipality resolved in 2010 that people with disability stickers would no longer be exempt from the parking provisions. In addition, the discs have to be renewed annually (R90), even if you have a permanent disability.

The 2009 document does not reflect any comment from the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) nor from the Association of the Physically Disabled Western Cape (APDWC).

Although it refers to paid parking and permits there is no specific mention of disability.

Ari Seirlis, QASA’s chief executive officer, said they didn’t know about the amended by-laws, but they have given their views on the national parking disc policy proposal.

Although I think the amended by-law is unfair, Mr Seirlis has another view. “There is no reason why wheelchair users should have a reduced parking rate. This is not the call from the disability sector. We want mainstreaming. Which means we want equitable facilities, and to pay the same price for them. So, we should be happy to pay for parking, but it must be monitored accordingly, and policed so that wheelchair users have access to these facilities and that they are not abused.”

Cape Town has 80 bays for people with special needs: Bellville – 4, Cape Town CBD – 38, Sea Point – 12, Claremont – 12, Somerset West – 6 and Strand – 8. None of which is monitored as evidenced by motorists who use them without displaying the sticker.

Qasa also believes that discs should be renewed every five years.

QASA WC general manager, Anthony Ghillino, said: “I do not often have to park in town, my driver normally drops me off, so I found out about this last year when I had to be at the CCMA and had to pay for parking.”

Mr Ghillino said they did not take part in the public participation process and neither did the City notify them of any changes.

“It is certainly not fair to exclude the disabled from the City which calls itself inclusive. However, we believe if the public pays for parking then so should our members. We are asking for equality and for our needs to be taken into consideration.

“The City should ensure that there are sufficient accessible parking bays available for wheelchair users. These accessible parking bays should be reserved for people with mobility impairments, remembering that they need to be a minimum of 3.4m wide to accommodate the wheelchair when transferring to and from the vehicle.

“The accessible bay should be positioned in such a way that wheelchair users do not put themselves at risk of being hit by a driver who cannot see the wheelchair because of other parked cars or obstacles that obscure their line of vision.

“We would prefer a longer time period to apply for the disability sticker. In the initial application a doctor could indicate if the disability was permanent, and if so, the permit holder could just renew it every five years or so to prove that they are still alive. Sadly, even family members of people with disabilities do use these parking permits,” Mr Ghillino said.

The Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities (WCAPD), said they did not know about the ‘new by-law’ nor have they had any queries or complaints from users about having to pay for parking.

“We were not aware of the proposed changes or the public participation process, nor were we requested to provide comment,” said Erica du Toit, WCAPD co-ordinator for awareness and sensitivity, who was speaking as a member of the disability sector.

“Some parts of the city are more accessible than others so I wouldn’t say they exclude people with disabilities altogether, but in no way can the city be described as accessible to persons with disabilities as a whole. Most considerations around access to the built environment have been focused on wheelchair users, although that is not even complete. There are many other types of disabilities that require accessibility considerations but these are generally ignored. As an organisation, we believe it is largely due to ignorance and not active discrimination. However, there are instances where discrimination has been practised despite knowledge of the needs of this group,” Ms Du Toit said.

“To my knowledge, the parking discs only need to be renewed every two years, unless it is a new ruling which we know nothing about. There is tremendous exploitation of these discs so we see renewing them as a measure to prevent abuse. While the concept of the accessible parking disc is similar across SA, the regulations tend to change from municipality to municipality. Our National Council for Persons with Disabilities did a lot of work to lobby for the standardisation of the process, to no avail.”

The discs are allocated to people with disabilities but in reality they are meant for those who have severe disabilities and need an assistive device, a wheelchair or walking frame, for example, to enter and exit their vehicle.

Felicity Purchase, mayoral committee member for transport, said that since the promulgation of the by-law in 2010, holders of permits for people with special needs are no longer exempt from paying for on-street parking. The permit allows the holder to park in a bay designated for a user with special needs. The holder is subject to the same time restrictions and applicable tariffs as users of general parking bays.

“The wording on the disc ‘exemption certificate for parking provisions’ has not been changed since the amended by-law was implemented. Given the omission, some permit holders may have been under the impression that they do not need to pay for parking. We have started a process to amend the wording on the discs, and will, in due course, make current disc holders aware of the terms and provisions of the by-law. The discs need to be renewed annually as a way of preventing abuse of the system by non-qualifying individuals, as this impacts on those who genuinely need to use these bays,” Ms Purchase said.

A public participation process was followed before the by-law came into effect in 2010 and a public hearing was held on September 14 2009.

Advocate Paul Hoffman of the NGO, Accountability Now, said that under the Constitution, change in laws ought to be accompanied by a public participation process.

“People with special needs should ask for an exemption from the new dispensation. If the City has any brains, they will give an exemption.”

Disclosure: I have had a disability sticker since 2009, and last year, for the first time, the meter readers employed by Numque, mandated by the City to monitor the parking, asked me to pay, because the law had been changed. But they couldn’t say why or by whom.