Cedar Park resident Mack Marsh volunteers several hours of his time each week working to help ensure that parking spaces set aside for the disabled are available to the disabled public.
Marsh is project director of Parking Mobility, a non-profit, volunteer-based program promoting awareness and support for accessible parking abuse around the Austin metro area.
Parking Mobility helped generate more than $400,000 in revenue from parking violation tickets in Travis County last year, all while helping make sure disabled residents have access to their allocated parking spaces.
Members of Parking Mobility began discussions with the Cedar Park City Council to add Cedar Park to the list of areas served by the nonprofit. If approved, Parking Mobility would contract with the city to allow its volunteers to track accessible parking abuse, and to educate offenders and volunteers.
Marsh said the problem isn’t a shortage of accessible parking spaces, it’s that the spaces that do exist have a high incidence of violation in Cedar Park.
“I have seen many instances of people using the spaces without displaying a valid license plate or placard, blocking the critical clearance areas adjacent to accessible spaces or displaying expired or even altered placards,” said Marsh. “Two weeks ago, I went shopping at a large store at Ronald Reagan and Whitestone. As I pulled up and parked to use the wheelchair accessible ramp, I noticed seven accessible parking violations.”
Following the suggestion of Cedar Park Police Chief Sean Mannix, Marsh said he called the CPPD non-emergency number to report the issue.
Marsh told Hill Country News that he spent more than nine minutes on the phone as he gave the operator the required information to dispatch an officer. He then reported all seven violations using a Parking Mobility app, developed specially for the program, taking just under three minutes complete the report.
Marsh said it took forty-three minutes for a Cedar Park motorcycle officer to arrive, but by that time, all seven of the vehicles originally reported for violations were gone. However, there were four new violations within Marsh’s sight.
“Two expired placards, an altered placard and a blocking violation,” Marsh described. “The officer looked around at each of the vehicles in the accessible spaces… I drove over to him and noticed that he was writing a citation on a vehicle with no plate or placard. I pulled up and rolled down my window. I thanked him for what he was doing and then asked why he didn’t write the four violations at the other area. He said he didn’t see any violations.”
Marsh said he would like to see the Parking Mobility program make the move into Cedar Park.
“We are making an effort to protect the spaces for people who need them,” Marsh explained. “Cedar Park has grown enough that it needs to have this program for the population to use.”
Success in Other Areas
State statistics indicate there are 3.4 million people with disabilities living in Texas.
Travis County approved a $75,000 contract with Parking Mobility in 2015 and has recouped far more than the original startup cost in revenue from parking violations. Marsh said Travis County made more than $400,000 in revenue in the past 12 months.
Hays County began a contract with Parking Mobility for $65,000 and generated $120,000 in revenue in the last year. The County now pays $5,000 per year for a maintenance agreement with the organization.
Parking Mobility is currently negotiating with several other cities in central Texas.
If approved in Cedar Park, Parking Mobility would recruit and train citizen volunteers, as provided for in Texas Transportation Code 681.
The Cedar Park Police Department would perform a background check on volunteers and then approve them as certified volunteers for the city. The volunteers would use the Parking Mobility app to report violations. The police department would then review the reports and mail a ticket to the owner of the offending vehicle.
The owner can either pay the $500 fine, request a court hearing if they feel they aren’t guilty, or opt to pay a reduced fee to the city and complete an offender education class online.
Marsh says Parking Mobility is the only program that offers this process and has proven successful in solving the problem.
Ken Kornblum, a disabled Cedar Park resident, agreed that there is widespread abuse of the parking spaces in the area.
“These spots are not just convenient spots,” Kornblum said. “They give access to disabled people who need them. This program wakes you up to why people need to observe these laws. What I want to see is education for all. Not fines, not a legal part, per say, but I want people to see the importance of using disabled spots only when you are legally allowed to do so.”
Under state law, citizen volunteers have no authority other than to enforce accessible parking statutes.
“When they see a violation, they use the Parking Mobility App to report those violations quickly, easily and discretely,” said Marsh. “Anyone can use the app and we encourage everyone to do so. Those ‘casual’ reports are important to helping build data to detail the scope of accessible parking and understand the problem.”
Only trained, approved volunteers’ reports result in a citation, Marsh said.
Marsh believes that if Cedar Park accepts the Parking Mobility program, repeat offenses will diminish exponentially.
“I have tremendous respect for our law enforcement officers,” said Marsh. “They do a lot with very few resources. They have to deal with stressful and often dangerous situations every day. They cannot possibly know and understand the nuances of every law; especially when there is not a commitment from the community for any one particular issue… like accessible parking.”
Marsh said the benefit of Parking Mobility for law enforcement agencies is that it provides a positive, proactive, non-confrontational program that builds a partnership between law enforcement and citizens.
“As our community grows, and it is growing fast, this problem is going to get worse and it is time for Cedar Park to get in front of this issue,” said Marsh. “Engaging the disability community and empowering them to be a part of solving this issue makes a lot of sense. It will reduce confrontations, it will change behavior in a positive manner and it will make our community safer and more accessible for everyone.”
“It is great to see that a discussion is getting started,” added Kornblum. “We want people to see why these violations are wrong and learn from their mistakes.”