Travis Co. program targets disabled parking abuse

Citizen volunteers with Parking Mobility can easily use the app to document violators

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Finding parking in Austin can be a pain for anyone. But for those with disabilities, it can be even harder – especially when people illegally park in accessible spots.

The nonprofit organization, Parking Mobility, hopes to change that with a new contract with Travis County.

Started by people with disabilities, Parking Mobility founders say parking abuse is a serious problem globally and here in the county.

“Accessible parking is not just a convenience for people. It really is a health and safety issue,” said Mack Marsh, Parking Mobility Project Director. “I’ve personally been to the hospital three times because people parked illegally.”

The way the program works is through training citizen volunteers to give citations to violators. Most of the volunteers either have a disability or know someone who does.

They’re able to report violators with a mobile app, taking pictures and entering the proper information.

“People report because they’re passionate about this issue, they’re affected by this issue,” said Marsh.

In a six month pilot program in Precinct 3, 395 citations were issued and an additional 67 courtesy letters to those who did not appropriately display their placards. Texas Transportation Code 681 allows communities to engage citizen volunteers to issue disabled parking citations.

Volunteers must be over 18 years old, complete four hours of training, pass a background check with no felonies and be deputized to enforce only disabled parking violations. They also cannot carry a weapon or materially benefit from their volunteer activity.

Renee Lopez says she’s excited to volunteer. The Austin local was born with Arthrogryposis, a disability which impacts her joints.

“Even though I’m able to drive and have freedom to go places, the problem I have now more than ever before is finding accessible parking. It’s nearly impossible,” said Lopez. “People seem to not understand it’s a necessary space, so they park in those spaces.”

Lopez says downtown is one of the hardest places to park. Often, she’ll park blocks away from where she needs to be.

Ultimately, Parking Mobility wants to educate the community on these issues. Violators have the option to take an offender education course called Disability Parking Course.

“Enforcement alone is never going to solve this problem,” said Marsh. “We have to have education. We have to let people understand why these spaces are important.”

If they choose not to, they’ll either have to pay the full fine of $500, request a dismissal by the court clerk, statutory dismissal or a dismissal by prosecutors. Parking Mobility hopes to have a total of 50 volunteers in the next few months and will be running countywide in the next few weeks.

Parking Mobility is also in Hays County. Marsh says violations have reduced by almost 80 percent in less than three years.

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