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Travis County approves accessible parking awareness campaign

Monday, July 14, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

In an attempt to cut back on the 2,100 citations issued for violating parking reserved for the disabled by the Pct. 5 Constable’s Office last year, the Travis County Commissioner’s Court unanimously gave the go-ahead for a countywide accessible parking awareness campaign. Precinct 5 includes downtown and surrounding areas as well as West Austin.

The campaign, branded Operation Save the Space, will be implemented pending approval of a $150,000 grant from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities. The county will provide $50,000 for the program out of existing personnel resources. Program facilitators from the constable’s office will donate a percentage of their county-budgeted time to the project and log it with the grantor.

The constable’s office will hear back from the grant committee sometime in August, and have indicated they will seek a similar grant annually for the next five years, with an estimated total of $250,000 in existing employee funding coming from the county. Each grant cycle would have to be approved by the court.

Operation Save the Space will complement the constable’s ongoing efforts to end illegal parking in spaces set aside for people with disabilities. Under the current program volunteers take photos for proof, issue tickets and sometimes testify in court about parking violations.

“What we’re trying to do is end parking abuse in Travis County,” Pct. 5 Constable Carlos Lopez said. “With the help of our deputies and our volunteers we’re still issuing as many tickets – citations – today since the time we first started the program.”

The Disabled Parking Enforcement Program began under the previous constable, Bruce Elfant, in September 1995 after the Texas Legislature authorized counties to deputize citizen volunteers to write parking tickets for accessible parking violations.

The program’s volunteer coordinator, Tanya Winters, oversees 50-plus volunteers, ages 18 to 60. Under the program, the constable’s office also has one full-time senior deputy, Laurence Caldwell, assigned to issuing citations. Other officers with the constable’s office also issue citations on their daily rounds.

There are three main types of accessibility parking violations: parking without a placard or with an expired placard, or illegally parking in the striped blocking spaces next to accessible parking spots that allow people who have wheelchairs, or other mobility equipment, room to get out of their vehicles.

“The one thing we’ve learned through the years is that enforcement alone is not enough,” Lopez said. “We need to educate the people about why, and how, people use disabled parking.”

Leslie Pool, the constable’s executive assistant and the grant administrator for the campaign, said the campaign is already garnering attention. “People are really excited about the prospect of the campaign and they are more than willing to join us with the effort,” Pool said.

Except for Pct. 3, which is working with Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty on its own accessibility parking campaign, all other constables have pledged their involvement in both the enforcement and education aspects of the Pct. 5 accessibility program. Lopez said the intent is to get other municipalities statewide to adopt the program.

“Maybe you’ve had surgery and you’re in a wheelchair. Maybe you’re caring for an aging parent who is unable to cross the parking lot. At some point we are all going to need accessible parking,” Lopez said.

See a map of constable districts here.

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