Vigilante app or helpful aid for accessible parking?

| July 30, 2013

Winnipeg, Canada, became the testing ground last month for a mobile app that is either a boon for frustrated drivers, city revenues, and the disabled in search of accessible parking, or an enabling force for bounty hunters and nightmarish litigation.

The app, called Spot Squad, allows users to take a photo of a parking violation—a car illegally parked in front of a fire hydrant, for example, or someone fraudulently using a n acessible parking permit. The image is then forwarded to police, private parking operators, or city wardens. An official may then be dispatched to issue a ticket. If the citation results in a fine, informants then receive a portion of the monies, which can be deposited to their bank accounts or donated to a charity of their choice.

Car with dumbbell through the windshield

We at MyParkingPermit do not support vigilantism. Although there’s vigilantism, and there’s vigilantism. From Flickr’s very own banjo d.

The app isn’t the only one of its kind. Texas-based, longtime nonprofit Parking Mobility offers one that allows deputized, trained volunteers to snap images of people who have illegally parked in accessible parking spaces. When motorists are charged, part of the fine is funneled to charities and an educational program that targets offenders, teaching them about the effects of their violations.

The nonprofit works with police departments and local governments, negotiating agreements before beginning operations in a new city. It is highly critical of Spot Squad’s offering.

Speaking to The Vancouver Sun, Mack Marsh, project director for Parking Mobility, said, “There is not a city in the world that would allow that because what you create then is vigilantism. When the individual who reports a crime profits from the reporting of that crime, then that crime is no longer enforceable.”

“There is not a court in the world that would uphold that type of violation,” he continued.

Marsh’s criticism may be a case of sour grapes. His nonprofit is conducting beta testing of its app in Vancouver, Canada, but the results have been disappointing. Unlike in the United States, traffic violations on private property can’t be reported. “Citizens are frustrated that their violations can’t become anything if they’re on private property,” Marsh told The Vancouver Sun.

Spot Squad cofounder Chris Johnson defended his product: “The aim is just to make the streets a safer place. It’s crowd-sourced parking control.”

two cars in handicapped parking

Critics point out that it’s impossible to tell who has a legitimate disability simply by looking. From Paul Swansen.

Others have identified gray areas into which Spot Squad wanders. For instance, a driver or passenger parked in a handicapped parking spot may look able-bodied but be legally blind, suffered a series of strokes, or is a legal holder of a disability parking permit who simply forgot the placard. A snapshot of that person won’t clarify any of those possibilities.

Still, Spot Squad’s app is a tempting revenue-generator for cash-strapped cities, as well as another possible weapon in local governments’ fight to curb disability-parking permit fraud. Some are reporting between $150,000 and $1.5 million in forfeited revenue from accessible parking permit fraud alone; consider the funds that cities and counties miss out on when other traffic violations go unrecorded.

Whether Spot Squad makes it over the border to the United States remains an open question. Already many cities and states offer hotlines that allow citizens to report illegal traffic violations or, in the case of Florida, lines dedicated to the reporting of abuse of disability parking permits.

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Category: Handicapped parking, Parking management

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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