I have an accessible parking permit. Where can I park? I heard I don't have to pay at meters - but it doesn't say on the meters themselves and I don't want a ticket. - Anna, Toronto
Toronto is the only major city in the province where, if you have a pass, you can park nearly everywhere. For instance, You can park for free at meters and pay and display machines, park in no parking zones and park without a residential permit on a street requiring one.
Toronto has some limits - the no parking zone exemptions are only in effect for 24 hours. And, they don't apply during rush hour in rush hour zones.
In Ontario, each municipality determines the rules for accessible parking spots - and accessible parking permits, a ServiceOntario spokesperson said in an e-mail.
The only common rule everywhere in Ontario? That the permit can be used in a parking space that has the wheelchair symbol.
Some other cities have special exceptions for accessible parking permits, but often there are time limits. For example, in Ottawa you can park for free at pay and display machines and park in no parking zones, but there's a four-hour limit for both. In Niagara Falls, you can't park in a no parking zone with a permit, but you can park at a meter.
There are about 700,000 accessible parking permits in Ontario. About 118,000 of those are in Toronto.
Who can park in accessible spots?
Unless you have an accessible parking permit, there's no situation where you can legally park in a spot requiring one, the city says. Even if the spot is in the parking lot of an abandoned store.
"Our bylaws are in effect 24-hours per day," said Anthony Fabrizi, Toronto's manager of parking operations, in an e-mail. "Therefore, even disabled spaces in plazas where a store may be closed are still enforceable."
Even when stores are closed, the spots may be used by after hours by Wheel-Trans or other services which transport people with disabilities, Fabrizi said.
Too easy to get a permit?
Permits are free and forms must be signed by a doctor, registered nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, chiropractor or podiatrist.
They're given for mobility impairments, heart or lung conditions and vision problems. Permanent permits are valid for five years, at which point you'll need another assessment.Temporary permits - for a broken leg, for example - are valid for up to a year.
"It's too easy to get a pass and there are too many temporary passes so people with long-term disabilities have a harder time finding access the majority of the time," said Peter Athanasopoulos, senior manager of public policy and government relations for Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Ontario. "If you can get out of your car easily and quickly cross the street - whether you're doing it in pain or with a disability or not - that can't be viewed the same as someone with a long-term disability who actually needs that space."
Athanasopoulos hopes a private members bill will pass and establish a commission in Ontario to look into standardizing rules for accessible parking - and to make sure there are enough spaces for people who truly rely on them.
"When you go to a different place, it's hard to know what the rules are," said Wendy Murphy, who has been in a wheelchair since an accident in 1984.
Murphy hopes a commission may lead to some of the larger spaces getting reserved for wheelchairs only. She needs the larger spaces - the ones usually near store and mall entrances - because her vehicle has a lift to get her wheelchair in and out.
"The problem is that the disabled parking permit turned into the accessible parking permit," said Murphy. "What happens to me all the time is, I go grocery shopping and I have to sit in the fire lane and wait for someone to leave a parking spot. And they always walk over and get into their car - they're still mobile."
In January, the province made changes to permits to make it easier for parking enforcement officers to verify that they're real and valid - and to prevent phoney and photocopied permits. The changes include bar codes and serial numbers.
"It's become quite ludicrous - there are permits out there where some of the people are dead," Murphy said. "You have to understand, my independence is my life, to be honest with you."
If you're caught using someone else's permit and they're not with you, you can be fined between $300 and $5,000.
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