Kimberlee is starting to think the City of Kelowna hates the underdogs.
She’s a woman with her right hip full of mechanics, the other missing 3/4 of its cartilage and a cyst impedes a knee. To top it all off she suffers from COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.
On a recent trip downtown with a friend who also suffers from disabilities, Kimberlee, who was uncomfortable giving her full name, assured her companion they could park in any city parking stall for free, so long as her wheelchair-emblazoned accessible parking pass was clearly visible.
She said she believed that with the pass, mobility-impaired drivers are not restricted to only parking in the marked disabled-only spaces.
But according to the man in charge of parking for the City of Kelowna, that’s not the case.
Dave Duncan, Kelowna’s parking services manager, said an accessible parking pass only allows a motorist with a pass visible in their car’s window to park in a marked accessible parking space for free.
If someone with a pass parks in a regular metered spot on a city street, he or she must pay the metered rate.
However, they are allowed to park longer than the stated time limit, as long as they top up the meter to pay for the extra time.
Where they can park for free is in a regular stall in any of the city’s parking lots.
Kimberlee and her friend were both shocked when they returned to the car to see a parking ticket under the wiper. Under close examination they saw it had a zero value owing.
So why was the vehicle ticketed at all? Kimberlee headed to city hall to find an answer.
There a city staff member told her the ticket was a warning this time, but as of January 2017 vehicles displaying an accessible parking permit will be able to park for free only in spaces marked as reserved for the disabled.
Duncan said the city told its bylaw officers to stop handing out the no-fine warning tickets months ago after receiving a number of phone call complaints.
But Kimberlee is not convinced.
“This is a war against seniors, disabled, the poor,” she told the Kelowna Capital News on Wednesday.
She’s been counting and figures the local Walmart and Rona store parking lots have more designated parking for mobility-impaired shoppers than the city has in its downtown core. Those businesses show they value all their customers, Kimberlee said.
Duncan said parking on private property, such as at shopping malls, may have different rules, as they are not controlled by the city.
She is outraged, not only for herself but everyone who needs to get to service providers clustered in downtown Kelowna.
“They’re targeting the poor, seniors who live on fixed incomes.”
People who are not mobile sacrifice to keep a car so they can get to services they require, and give up other things to maintain the vehicle.”
Kimberlee, who lives on $906 a month, has an economy-sized pickup truck festooned with human rights stickers. “I only have this ‘monster’ because I inherited it,” she said. But it’s a life-line she’s willing to sacrifice to keep.
She’s been through the process of proving she needs the parking pass several times. The first was a six-month pass after her hip surgery. She took her medical records to city hall to show she truly had issues with walking distances. Later as her fragile bones and health deteriorated she was granted a more permanent parking pass.
It’s not just for herself she’s fighting the restrictions. Seniors and the poor “come downtown to get a free meal at the Gospel Mission,” Kimberlee said.
She says City Hall is “targeting people who park on Lawrence and Leon. They are moving this element out of their beautiful downtown and away from the very services they need.”
Kimberlee also said a city staffer told her that able-bodied workers get accessible parking passes and park downtown all day for free. “I’ve never seen any disabled people working in the stores downtown.”
Duncan conceded there have been problems with the accessibility parking pass and said the program is slated to be reviewed by the city next year. “We are trying to do some education,” said Duncan, who suggested everyone affected should review the city’s policy on its website. Go to kelowna.ca/parking and click on the accessibility parking permits link.
—with files from Alistair Waters