State officials should toughen penalties for misusing disability parking placards and take additional steps to curb the costly practice, according to a report from the state inspector general.
“The improper use of placards in Boston may cost the city millions of dollars each year” in lost parking meter revenue, the report by Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha’s office said.
According to the document, Cunha’s staff launched an investigation of the abuse of the parking passes, which allow disabled people to park at designated spaces and at parking meters for free, in July 2014.
The office began the probe given “the continuing importance” of the issue and discovered “ongoing abuse of placards in every Boston neighborhood it surveilled,” as well as gaps in the Registry of Motor Vehicles placard review process and in state laws that make it easier for violators to obtain and use the passes inappropriately, according to the report.
The incentive for misuse is high in Boston, where parking in garages can cost commuters more than $6,000 annually and buying a deeded parking space can cost more than $100,000, the report, which was dated Wednesday, said.
There is no fee to apply for a placard, the Registry said.
According to the report, disabled people must have a medical provider certify that they meet at least one of five criteria to obtain a placard.
The criteria are an inability to walk 200 feet without stopping to rest or without assistance from another person or prosthetic aid, a cardiovascular disease that severely limits functioning, a pulmonary disease that affects breathing, impaired vision, or the loss of a limb or the ability to use one.
Cunha’s office watched the Theater District, Copley Square, the Fenway, and parts of the Back Bay over 34 days.
Investigators found that 77 vehicles appeared to regularly display placards that belonged to someone other than the vehicle owner. In total, 325 vehicles displayed passes at least once that belonged to someone else.
State Police cited 23 of the drivers and confiscated their passes.
One of the most egregious cases was that of a chiropractor who fraudulently obtained multiple placards and who “regularly uses social media to post photographs of himself at a New England ski area,” the report said.
The document did not name the chiropractor.
It is illegal to use another person’s placard, including a relative’s.
Cunha’s report listed several recommendations for the RMV and the state Legislature, such as making the obstruction of a placard number or expiration date a citable offense under state law, increasing fines for misusing a placard, strengthening RMV oversight of temporary placards, and developing an electronic reporting tool for municipal police departments to immediately report placard abuse to the RMV.
Under current law, violators who wrongfully display or use a placard face a license suspension and $500 fine for a first offense and a $1,000 penalty for each subsequent offense, according to the report.
In a statement, Registrar Erin C. Deveney said the RMV “has already made progress to curb placard fraud and will closely review the inspector general’s recommendations to help prioritize future improvements with respect to the issue of placards, database of medical providers, design of placards, training for law enforcement to help spot fraudulent placards, and education of stakeholders including local commissions on disabilities.”
Deveney continued, “Steps taken during the last year to prevent placard abuse include the hiring of a new director of the Medical Affairs Branch, hosting an online site for the public to report fraud, and continuing the work of the Massachusetts Disability Placard Abuse Task Force which has been meeting with external partners to share information, discuss fraud reporting procedures, and consider an increase in public education concerning the issue.”
Christine Griffin, executive director of the Disability Law Center Inc. in Boston, said she was pleased that Cunha’s office was “shining a light on the situation.”
“It really is too bad that there’s still widespread abuse of this, when there’s lots of people who need disabled parking,” Griffin said.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, said the city was pleased to participate in a task force for Cunha’s report and “supports efforts to end [disability placard] abuse in order to preserve accessible parking for those with their own valid placards.”