By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — There’s no free parking. Not even for the disabled.
Jackson Memorial Hospital, a Miami-Dade county-owned hospital system, has recently joined the growing list of county facilities exempted from the county ordinance prohibiting charging disabled persons for parking.
Starting May 1, disabled drivers will have to pay the same rates as everyone else to park at the public hospital.
“Those who came here in a handicap vehicle with the blue tag will now, (along) with everyone else, after the (first) two hours, have to pay,” said Edward O’Dell, the hospital spokesperson.
Miami International Airport and PortMiami have already been exempted from the rules. Both facilities managed to convince commissioners the number of drivers abusing the system warranted the waiver.
The hospital’s waiver was granted as part of a change to bring two hours of free parking for all visitors. After the first two free hours are used up, the meter starts running and can end up costing anywhere from $5 to $8.
O’Dell claims the change will benefit all users of the hospital. “We made this change because it enhances the patient experience, it helps retain the patients we have and attract new patients.”
Many at the hospital don’t agree.
“I don’t think it’s fair for the reason that they are ill or disabled. It’s not fair that they also have to pay to park,” said Maria Rivera.
Ernesto Compagina said it just seems wrong. “We are not like other people who work and get a paycheck.”
Gail Wills said the disabled struggle to cover the cost of medicine and that paying to park stings even more.
“A lot of disabled people have very limited income and a lot of times they don’t have the income to cover their medication and (now) they will have to pay additional to park? I disagree with that.”
The new hospital parking waiver was approved March 4 by the Miami-Dade County Commission by a vote of 7-2. Commissioners brought up the growing number of fraudulent disabled tags and other abuses, including the investigation by the Office of Inspector General, which found that half of the disabled parking spots at the MIA were being used by airport workers.
But Commissioners Rebecca Sosa and Javier Souto, who both voted against the amendment, felt disabled drivers were already burdened enough.
Sosa told the Miami Herald the disabled community, as county taxpayers, will be obligated to help pay for hospital improvements through the recent property tax increase approved by voters to raise the $832 million needed for upgrades.
“Let’s be thankful the community just approved what it approved for Jackson,” she said.
Nevertheless, O’Dell said charging them for parking isn’t out of line and goes “hand in hand” with the recent bond that was approved to upgrade the facility.
“We are actually taking a loss with this change initially. We are not expected to gain more money,” he said.
Drivers with disabilities requiring a special vehicle would still be granted free parking under state law.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.