Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My experiences with Parking Mobility

Since I started in February (it is now April) I have sent in 74 reports on accessible parking violations. For those who don't know what that means, it means people parking in the disabled parking spaces. We prefer to call it accessible parking because access is what it's all about. 74 violations in a small city like Monroe, Louisiana in  the span of 2 months feels like a lot to me. And I got them in an even shorter span of time, if you think about it. I only went out maybe once a week, sometimes twice. My route that I established for myself takes only about 90 minutes. I looked at my progress on the website (yep, you can totally check your progress) and counted the days. I went out exactly 17 days.

So, in reality, that's 74 violations in 17 days. Think about it.

What I want to talk about today is what to do if someone catches you taking down information. People react defensively and you will want to keep your cool and not wind up in a confrontation.

Confrontations not only don't do much to convince violators but can become dangerous and actually hurt the program. That last thing any partnering community wants, is anyone taking the law into their own hands or putting themselves into unnecessary danger.

In all of those encounters that I have had, only a very few have caught me. Maybe 5 or 6. That's just a matter of timing. One thing is for sure, nothing is worth and argument, so walk away. I mean it, just turn and walk away. Even if that means you don't finish sending in the report. It's not worth it.

So what kind of experiences have I had? When first getting started, I had an elder man and his young daughter (I'm assuming she was his daughter), catch me in the parking lot a few feet away from the back of their small car. He yelled and said he had every right to be there (he must have seen me on the news). So I asked where his placard was. He admitted he didn't have one and called me some choice names. I suggested that 3 dollars and a doctors note would fix that for him. He called me some more nasty names and told his daughter to back over me. I walked away.

Honestly, I shouldn't have bothered. I should have just said, "Sorry taking a call." and walked away. He wouldn't have had any idea if I was or not. Seriously, play it off as doing something else.

When you are taking down info, you should probably take down the plate number first and then take the photos, just so you have some of the difficult stuff out of the way first. Then, once you have the photos you can totally step away to a good distance to finish the rest.

On another stop I had a woman who had nothing to do with the situation come up and start questioning me. She acted really odd and circled me like a shark continuously asking me "what's wrong? Is something wrong?" over and over again. She was just weird. But I thought, hey, maybe someone who would be interested in volunteering, so I explained it to her. Big mistake. She stalled me long enough for an angry driver to come out and teamed up with that woman to berate me loudly in the parking lot.  The lesson, trust your gut. Don't let anyone stall you in the middle of what your doing. If someone seems weird, get away from them or play them off like you would anyone else.  I still get a shiver when I think of how bizarre that woman was.

Everything from an educational standpoint. I have had one or two people who were more interested in the educational side. These were people who already had a placard, but it was hidden under dashboard debris or left on the seat of the car. They took interest when I said that putting their placard where it can be clearly seen actually helps our cause. They even moved them to a more visible place right in front of me. But I did not go out of my way to engage them. And I also pointed out that having them as volunteers would be very helpful. Don't know if they took up on it, but it was worth a try since we were in dialogue already.

Basically, don't go out of your way to engage anyone while you are taking down a report on the app. If I want to try and recruit, I ask "would you be interested in volunteering"? But I don't do that out in parking lots unless a conversation allows for it naturally. I use social media.

Another good thing, if you can get enough people in your area involved, is that Parking Mobility will do a training course with you and "certify" you. See my last post on what you need to do in order to get partnered with your community through Parking Mobility.

Look; basically think of yourself as James Bond without the action heroics. All you are doing is gathering data quickly, quietly and safely to support the cause of cleaning up accessible violations in your area. Everyone deserves access to groceries, shops, and health care. People who violate that parking are taking way from someone who not only needs that space, but took the responsibility to go through the steps to park legally. I've seen some interesting tricks people will use to sidestep those same responsibilities.

ID on the dashboard: No placard and no plate means a violation. Your ID won't cut it.

Leaving someone to guard the car: That just makes you stand out. And we don't have to get close in most cases thanks to the good ol zoom feature on our smart phones.

Parking on the crosslines: Sorry that someone else got there first, but even with a placard, you can't park there. The crosslines are for wheel chair accessibility and safety in leaving and approaching the parking spaces.

Take two (or all of them): With just one vehicle. I know you don't want your new car scratched, but come on. Before I started using the app, I came across and elder man who parked his car across, not one, not two, but three accessible parking spaces. That's insane and would have been worthy of reporting. He didn't have a placard either.

So, the idea, to reiterate, is to safely gather the data and send it in. Don't get into confrontations and if approached, play it off. You can claim technical difficulties on your phone or something, but just walk away. Use distance where ever you can when using the app. You can zoom in with your phone from as far as another aisle away. It will look like you are taking a general parking lot photo. Then you can claim you are just taking down general data on parking spaces or something.

And one more tip: If the media wants to talk to you, refer them to the source. Media attention is fine, but it's best if your community is already partnered or you have them talk to Parking Mobility directly.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Using the Parking Mobility App

The Parking Mobility app is used to send in reports of accessible parking violations. For those who have been following a long, this is my second write up on the app. Learn more about it by going to the blog post directly before this one in the calendar. That being said...

Once you download the app which is free, you have to verify your email address and then you can start sending in reports. But do you know all of what a violation looks like? There's more to it than just where you park. Let's start with what is NOT a violation.

-A disability placard, in clear view from the rear view mirror. On the dashboard is acceptable so long as it is in clear view. More on that coming.

-A license place with a disability wheel chair emblem on it.

-A license place that begins with DV or has "Disabled Veteran" on it.

You may come across a plate that say PH (Purple Heart). By state laws, this does not work. There must be a placard or wheel chair emblem present.

Now what does a violation look like?

The obvious is a car without any of the legal markings parked in a clearly marked accessible parking space. But there are other problems.

-Blocking: When any car parks on the slanted yellow or blue lines, they are blocking safe access to the accessible  parking space. Let's look at an image:
Click on image for better view. This is a violation of "blocking" and there is a drop down menu in the app so you can report it accurately. If you look closely, there is another car parked ahead of the SUV that is in an accessible space. I can tell you that car was legal. To the right out of picture is a row of accessible spaces.

So the SUV isn't blocking anyone from parking per se, but the lines on this side of the spaces are still meant for disabled persons to move around safely, without having to squeeze between cars to get to the store. ANY car parked on these lines is a violation. Even if they have placard or plates.

One thing that is great about the app is that, if something you send in isn't a violation, they will inform you of it. So if in doubt, send the report.

Parking on slanted lines between accessible spaces or next to one is also a violation. Even if they have a placard or plates. They are blocking someone's wheelchair access.

You will come across what I call "just shoddy parking". Where someone parks halfway in an accessible space and halfway over the slanted lines next to it. If they have their placard and plates, this is usually excused. But if in doubt, send the report. List it as blocking.

-Placard not visible: Sometimes you will come across a vehicle that has the placard resting on the dash, but is covered with old mail or some junk. Or maybe it's been shoved so far down the windshield, it's nearly all obscured. Us the drop down menu in the app and select 'Placard not displayed properly'. Do all the other prompts as normal.

-Fake, Expired or Defaced Placards: This is another report in the drop down menu. If you think it might be a fake placard or something might be off about it. This is the report you use. They will let you know if you are mistaken. I've seen placards pieced together in laminate with odd bits next to them that didn't make sense. You may have to get closer to the car for this report than with others.

-ID on the dash: Another trick you might see is an ID card left on the dashboard instead of the placard. This is a violation. Nothing replaces the placard except the proper plates.

How to use the app:

When you bring up the app, you will have a map showing your location and a menu you can tap on. When you tap on "Report Violation" you will see a selection of points you need to fill in.

Violation Type: This is the drop down menu for the violations I listed above.

Below this, you will see 2 or 3 dark windows you can tap on that are labelled for photos of the violation. It is suggested to use your zoom feature where you can so you don't look like you are too close to someone's vehicle. I like to stand back a good ten feet or so if possible and use the zoom to capture the information. I've even stood in another entire lane of parking to catch windshield shots before because people were sitting in the car. They had no idea I took the picture.

Scrolling down, you will next find a tap map for the location of the space they are parked in. You can move the indicator to the best of ability to show where they are parked on the map. If there isn't a indicator of a parking space there, you can add one easily.

Next, is the License plate. You don't have to put in the State, just the number/letter combo.

Finally, there is a comment section. I used this to put in what store I'm in front of or other business as a helpful indicator.

You can do these things in any order you are comfortable with. Most people get the photos and then move away to finish the report. All in all, the whole  things takes seconds to complete and you carry on with your day.

A rule of thumb: It is asked that you avoid confrontations. If someone asks you what you are doing. You could say anything, and then just walk away. Some people say they are taking down accessible parking information for mapquest or something like that. Nothing wrong with being clever, just get the info and move on. Confrontations are not only dangerous, but usually don't help the situation. People will say all sorts of things, but don't like being told how it really is.

In my next write up I'll share some of the confrontations I wound up in and how to handle them quickly and safely. I have my past law enforcement experience to fall back on, and I'll share that with you.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How do you feel about accessible parking?

When you see someone park in the handicapped zone that doesn't belong there, does it get under your skin? I tell you what, when you sometimes need that spot yourself, you really notice the violations more.

But what do you do about it? Do you wait around and confront the person? That can get dangerous. Do you call the police? Very timely and the person is usually gone by the time the police arrive.

But there is something you can do. You can join the movement with Parking Mobility and get something started. But it will take some perseverance.

Parking Mobility utilizes an app for your smart phone that allows you to report a violation of accessible parking from pretty much anywhere in the world. They are partnered with about 15 communities in this process as well. What does that mean?

It means that, in those communities, when a report is sent in, a ticket is eventually sent out. Parking Mobility works directly with the law enforcement agencies in those communities. Volunteers send in reports that are routed to the proper law enforcement division. In turn, a citation goes out in the mail to the lucky parking violator.

I spoke with Mack Marsh, the creator of the app and man behind the scenes with Parking Mobility. He explained to me that there are two things that need to happen in order to get the partnering process started in any community.

1: Evidence that there is a problem. That means collecting data and sending in reports. Even if you may not get your community partnered this year or next, this is the most important thing you can do. Using the app to send in reports is crucial. It takes a lot of data to get community leader's attention. That brings us to...

2: There needs to be enough people in the community who care about it and want to do something about it. That means a one man crusade is unlikely to get your area partnered. That's why I'm actively seeking more people to get involved in my area of Monroe and West Monroe, Louisiana.  You will need to seek out volunteers too.

Once those two conditions are met, Parking Mobility will seek out the proper connections in your community leaders and get the ball rolling for working together to control the problem of those violations. If you are going to work with Parking Mobility, please do not try contacting your community leaders without them. It can actually hurt the process. PM are professionals and know what they are doing. 15 partnered communities is a pretty good list of results so far.

So do note that I put the link up in the body of  this blog article. Get the app and get started. In my next write up, I will tell you more about how to use the app and what I personally do on my "patrols". Till then, you can also find training videos on the app's use via youtube and the website.