AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Transportation Department is in the midst of hiring more volunteers to help enforce accessible parking violations, and the deadline to apply for this round is 5 p.m. Wednesday.
In the Accessible Parking Enforcement Program, volunteers are trained and deputized to issue warnings and citations to those illegally parked in handicap parking. It’s a shared program between the Austin Transportation Department and the Austin Police Department.
ATD has been trying to build its volunteer force since the beginning on the year, and the latest call for those interested ends at 12 a.m. Friday, with two scheduled training sessions at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Jason Redfern, parking enterprises manager for the transportation department, understands the frustration when someone is using an accessible parking spot when they shouldn’t be.
“You’re looking around and you’re going, ‘Where’s a cop when I need one?’ Guess what? We can deputize you and you can help be part of that solution,” Redfern said.
It has been a little bit of a struggle to get new volunteers for the program due to COVID-19, the city says.
Austinite Chase Bearden, the deputy executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said he learned a lesson when he was a teenager.
“When I was younger, I had no idea what those spots were,” Bearden said. “I parked in one and my girlfriend at the time asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘These spots are always open.'”
Two weeks after that, Bearden said, he broke his neck playing sports. At 17 years old, the accident left him a quadriplegic.
“I got a big life lesson and I would have never understood it,” Bearden said.
Since October 2019, city officials say volunteers in the program have issued 630 citations, and 1,000 in the past two years. Ninety-five percent of the citations end up as convictions, the city said.
Parking illegally in an accessible spot is a Class C misdemeanor that carries a minimum $500 fine. Bearden said while he tries not to judge people when he sees a car without a visible accessible placard, it’s difficult for him.
“I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt because I don’t know their story, and it’s easy to know that I need it because I’m in a wheelchair,” Bearden said, “but at the same time, I just hope that people make the right decision on their end and not use the spot when they don’t need it.”