Our interview is with Judy Babbitt, director of San Antonio's Accessability Planning Department.

Expo1000 - Can you give me a little background regarding your work?

Judy Babbitt - I work for City of San Antonio, Texas as a city planner. My professional background is in the area of urban studies and have been with the City of San Antonio for 25 years.

For the last 15 years I've been the city's accessibility planner which is a little different from most cities. Most cities have an ADA coordinator who does ADA compliance. I see the ADA as a planning tool, so I am the city's ADA coordinator and I'm very actively involved in the planning of what we're going to do, how we are going to do it, staging it, and even sometimes helping to find the sources to pay for it.

So I'm really the city's consultant, technical advisor, ADA advisor even though I'm an employee of the City.

Expo1000 - Who sets the guidelines for ADA?

Judy Babbitt - Those come directly from the Department of Justice. The guidlines are regulations that build a program of compliance and laws. They are clearly spelled out, though they are flexible. There are certain requirements like a self-evaluation and a transition plan. Then you have to implement your plan.

What that means is that you have to evaluate where you are weak and phasing the implementation plan in. So the ADA guidelines and the way they guide way any city complies.

Expo1000 - Is there government funding to help implement these programs?

Judy Babbitt - Government funding is very limited. That's where planning comes in. A great deal of the money we spend in our public facilities modifications for accessibility has been through bond programs that have been hooked onto other bonds, through general fund money, development block grant funds, and a combination of other sources.

We are going to build 3 large parking ramps next year with Certificates of Obligation, which means that the Certificates have to be sold and the money used to build the ramps. Our city council has been amazing in their support of our efforts and of the city's staff.

Expo1000 - We are involved in the parking industry. What should parking management people be looking for in building their own ADA programs?

Judy Babbitt - Well that's a really good question and I don't think there is any one answer.

Expo1000 - How about your subjective answer?

Judy Babbitt - Parking managers should be looking at the ADA requirements as another facet of the overall parking requirements. By that I mean that ADA should not be viewed as an addition or afterthought but should be built in from the start. The design of the spaces or the monitoring should not be thought of as a separate issue, it is not.

Expo1000 - Unfortunately these programs came along much later than initial programs. Are you working on modifying the existing programs while implementing new programs?

Judy Babbitt - That's where the ADA is a very interesting animal. The only thing that the ADA looks at is the design requirements for the spaces and the number of the spaces. It's the State laws and other covenants that guide the equity of the parking.

If you go to the ADA and look up parking, you will find that if you provide any parking you must include people with disabilities in that parking contingent and that talks about numbers of spaces. Where ADA comes in is that it's a civil rights law not a design law. This means that you must provide equal opportunity to goods and services and of course parking is part of those goods and services.

Expo1000 - Where to people look for help in designing their own compliance programs?

Judy Babbitt - If it's a public parking issue they should look to their city's planning department and ADA coordinator. If their a private venture, there are many good accessibility coordinators out there – people that sell the service.

We are now building a new arena here and they have hired an accessibility consultant to get everything in order. Not with just the design but how they will deal with people with disabilities is various situations.

There are wonderful resources out there from web sites to booklets. It takes some scouting, but if you want to build an equitable parking program and want to include people with disabilities, as the laws require, all the resources are available.

Expo1000 - Is there a program the help advise the public or make the public more aware?

Judy Babbitt - Yes, I don't think it comes from one place. Being aware as I am because I use a wheel chair and it's also my job, of the people who disregard or have no respect for the law we must continue to develop the tapes, tell the stories, and attempt to get through to everyone. It doesn't matter how bad the story is about the woman who couldn't get into her house because someone had illegally parked in the handicapped space, we continue to get the word out.

Here we've done a short public service announcement with David Robinson, the Spurs basketball player, and our police chief. It's a great PSA and everyone likes it. How do you measure if it did anything? I don't know. That PSA was aimed at people who park in the handicapped spaces without a valid placard or any identifier.

Expo1000 - In our industry a big problem is the use of fraudulent placards. What are you doing about this problem?

Judy Babbitt - You are right, the bigger problem for us is the people who fraudulently use, obtain, or buy hanging placards and consider themselves a valid parker to take the handicapped space.

That element is what we are now addressing.

Expo1000 - You've now brought up my pet peeve.

Judy Babbitt - It's many people's pet peeve, it's mine certainly.

Expo1000 - Is there a national program that people can use to address this problem of fraudulent use of handicapped placards?

Judy Babbitt - There's nothing now. Every locality is struggling with this. We are now underway with what we think could become a good model that others could adopt.

What we are doing now is a pilot and as a great sharer of information, we will be able to export this program as a model. Not to tell people that this is the way to do it, but instead to explain that this is the way we do it and here are samples. We feel that we are on the right track.

Expo1000 - Would you explain a little about your program?

Judy Babbitt - Sure, I'd be glad to. The City of San Antonio has a parking division that monitors the downtown meter parking. They ride around in scooters and we have a bike patrol that helps out.

Expo1000 - Is this the traditional Parking Control Officer who issues the parking tickets?

Judy Babbitt - Absolutely. They cover area that contains an area that contains approximately 2,000 parking meters. The area is about 4 miles square.

This program that we're working on is focused on the people who park at a meter with a illegal placard. Up to now, we've just wrung our hands when peopled call wanting the rules enforced. So we decided that we would try to do something about the problem.

When we began this program last year, on a daily basis approximately 200 of the 1,900 effected meters were taken with hanging tags. The vehicles would stay all day. Essentially the hang tags were being used a free parking permits. We computed that and even if 1/3 of the 200 were fraudulently using hanging tags it was costing the city approximately $106,000 per year. That's a lot of revenue.

Between the Parking Division which is part of the San Antonio Public Works Department, my office which is Disability Access Office, and our Municipal Court - which handles all the traffic violations – we formed a team to come up with a definitive solution. It really needed the cooperation of a team to do this.

We first decided to create a parking enforcement notice which said that we were going to really enforce the law relating to fraudulent parking placard use as well as the fines and penalties.

In Texas, it is illegal to park and not pay if the placard is not in use by the actual owner of the placard or while transporting the owner of the placard. For instance, if my husband is transporting me he can use the placard but he is not to use the placard if I'm not with him.

We printed the notices on bright yellow paper and we distributed them to everyone parked using a placard. Our parking officer put them on every car with a placard whether they were good or bad it didn't matter. We did this every day for about three weeks.

Beginning immediately, the City of San Antonio
will actively enforce parking rules governing
on street metered parking
and publicly owned parking lots.

The enforcement will include but not be
limited to assuring that vehicles displaying
either a disabled driver placard or plate
are driven by or are transporting
a person with a disability.

It is a violation of Texas law:

  • To park a vehicle in an accessible parking space without displaying the appropriate plate or placard, even if a driver or a passenger of the vehicle has a disability;
  • To park a vehicle with a placard or plate that is expired;
  • To park a vehicle with a placard or plate that belongs to someone who is not a driver or a passenger in the vehicle;
  • To lend a parking placard to an individual without a disability who uses that placard to violate state law;
  • To steal or counterfeit a parking placard or license plate;
  • To park a car in such a way that it blocks access to a accessible parking space, an access aisle, or any architectural improvement that provides access for people with disabilities, such as a ramp or a curb cut.

Violations of these laws are punishable by the seizure of the parking placard and by fine, in the following amounts:

First offense: $250-$500
Second offense: $300-$600
Third offense: $300-$600
Fourth offense: $500-1000, plus 20-50 hours of community service
Fifth offense: $1000, plus 50 hours of community service

Reference: TEXAS TRANSPORTATION LAWS-681.006 (b), (c), (d)
CITY OF SAN ANTONIO CODES 19-216, 19-220 & 19-22

Expo1000 - I dying to know. What happened?

Judy Babbitt - Even with just that we saw a reduction in the numbers of spaces in that were filled with placard users. We viewed this as a initial success but were aware that as soon as we stopped distributing the notices, the fraudulent users would come back.

Then what we began to do was we began approaching people asking to see their drivers licenses. The disabled person's drivers license or identification number is on the hanging tag. If the drivers license does not match or if the owner of the placard is not with them, then we simply ticketed them and took away their placard which Texas law says that you can do. We had never done anything like this before.

Expo1000 - Is there a problem confronting people coming from the handicapped community like ACORN?

Judy Babbitt - I don't know about ACORN but I do know that in my community there is jubilation that the city is doing this.

Of course we do not bother to approach someone in a wheel chair or have obvious mobility problems but there are others without obvious mobility problems such a someone with heart problems or emphysema.

At times we have approached people that it is their placard are generally very pleased to show their drivers license and like the program.

The results have been very good and actually fun to give the people that are the maddest about the problem are finally getting a hearing and a solution.

We take those placards and they don't get them back plus the violators get a big fat fine of $100.00. People who think that the placard was unjustly taken from them can go the hearing officer and request the placard's return but I think this has only happened 2 or 3 times so far.

The other part of this program has to deal with the County. The Count issues the placards and maintains the records. When we take a placard we return it to the County so that when someone shows up looking for a replacement for their "lost" placard, the County knows that the placard was taken by us for misuse.

Expo1000 - Why do you think that this program works so well?

Judy Babbitt - I think it's simply the idea of shame. This is really a case of white-collar crime. It's planned, thought through, and executed to defraud or steal. Shame is an important deterrent to white-collar crime.

Expo1000 - Do you have any numbers that reflect the success of this program?

Judy Babbitt - We continue to monitor the program and I don't have all the numbers in front of me but I can report that last week the average daily meter usage by placard users was down to 106 from above 200 before the program began.

Expo1000 - Thanks a lot for your time and good luck with the continued success of your program.

Judy Babbitt
City of San Antonio, Texas