App helps patrol handicap parking violators

- Cracking down on drivers who illegally park in handicap spaces could get easier in Hillsborough County, if an app is approved by authorities and commissioners.

The Tampa Mayor's Alliance for Persons with Disabilities is hoping to launch an app called "Parking Mobility."

The app allows drivers to report people abusing handicap accessible parking.

"It's mostly laziness. People say, 'I'm just running in for a minute.  I don't want to bother to park anywhere else,'" said Rob Rowen, a member of the alliance.

Rowen made national headlines last year when he was banned from Starbucks for confronting customers who were not disabled but parked in the only handicap space.

"It started with my son-in-law, who is in a wheel chair with muscular dystrophy. I remember when he was driving, he'd have to park sometimes at the end of the parking lot, because all the spaces were taken. He'd be driving down a row of cars [in his motorized chair], knowing that any moment one of them could back out, but not see him and run over him," said Rowen.

Rowen began to take the issue personally from then on.  He still confronts customers parked illegally; however, he said their responses are sometimes disheartening."

"A man told me that he beats those tickets and that it didn't matter if the police came or I waited," said Rowen.

The Parking Mobility app would allow citizens who spot violators to notify authorities through their smartphone.

The app prompts users to take three photos: the front dashboard, the license plate, and the handicap parking sign. When users submit their complaint, a geographic location is also sent to authorities to notify them where the violation occurred.

Violators would be ticketed and given an option to either pay the full $250 fine or pay a reduced fine and take a two-hour online course to learn why handicap parking is not a convenience, but a necessity for many people.

"It's particularly important for wheelchair ramps. Often times it requires space on one side or the other of the vehicle to unload a ramp from the vehicle. You need several feet to do that," explain Finn Kavanaugh, executive director of the Self Reliance Center in Tampa.

Supporters of the app presented the idea to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Monday afternoon, according to Rowen.  While the department expressed interested in the app, he said they are concerned launching it now, as they continue a legal battle involving red light cameras.  It could give the false impression that the app is about revenue.

The app would cost the county $30,000 to $35,000 per year, but the funds would likely come from the money collected from ticketed drivers.

The alliance is planning to present the app idea to Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday.


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