Carrots or Sticks? Handicapped Parking Edition

I’m convinced that shame can in many cases provide stronger incentives than a monetary penalty uncertainly enforced.  At a parking place in Luxembourg, the sign on the handicapped parking places reads: “Here is parking for a very handicapped person or a very inconsiderate (unscrupulous) person.”  This might motivate a lot of people better than a $50 fine should they happen to get caught parking there.

A similar motivation would have been provided by an economics journal, if my advice had been followed.  The editors were proposing an experiment in which they would one year publish names of the fastest referees, and even give a prize to fast referees who provided excellent reports.  I suggested that they instead publish the names of the delinquent referees.  Sadly, and wrongly in my view, they refused.

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  1. Mike B says:

    The whole system of handicapped parking is woefully inefficient because many handicapped spots sit idle for much of the day. A better solution would be spots that allow regular people to park for short periods of time (5 minutes) or while someone attends the vehicle with handicapped persons still being allowed unrestricted use. Therefore instead of spots sitting idle during times when the handicapped are not needing it, they can instead be used by other individuals which can clear the space on demand after a short wait.

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    • Owen says:

      On the contrary, it is the most efficient parking space in the lot. After all, it’s the only space that has a cost associated with it, the fine or public shame. What’s innefficient is free parking:

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    • Matthew says:

      Unless our expectation is that a handicapped person will sit with their car running as they wait for the spot to clear, this will never work. If non-placard bearing vehicles are allowed to park in these spots, they will be filled every time they are emptied; a handicapped person will have to depend on luck to pull up at the very moment another car pulls out lest multiple 5 minute periods of use string together as continuous usage by non designated vehicles.

      It may be inefficient, but having had wheelchair bound relatives who needed those spots, if we are going to say that having these spaces exist is a societal good then the mere fact that they sit empty waiting for the less ambulatory to use them speaks volumes.

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      • Joe J says:

        I hate using the term “societal good”, becaause all of society does not benifit from the societal goods. It is usually just selct members of society, with the rest of society either mildly loss.
        If it were a true good then more of it would always be better, but it is obvious that turning all parking into handicapped only parking would be a disaster. So even if a partial good there are limits and a more efficient number number of handicapped spots.
        There is a problem with handicapped parking in it is very one size fits all. Rules and regulations as to the minimums that are required. If those minimums bear no resemblance to society you have extreme waste.
        With where I am I can see a condo buildings visitor parking lot, it is mostly full except for the 4 empty handicapped spots. I occasionally see a handicapped spot being used, but often I see all visitor spots used. Would half as many handicapped spots be a better, more efficient use of space, almost definately, however doing so could be illegal.

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    • Trish says:

      The idea of letting others use the spaces for a short time is an interesting one, though I’m not sure how effective it is likely to be. This kind of notion is applied to accessible stalls in public bathrooms. As someone with a disabled husband, I have spent many an hour waiting outside the rest stop bathroom on a road trip. If he goes in and someone else has taken the handicap accessible stall available (assuming it was open when they walked in), he has no choice but to wait on them (and sometimes just gives up) as his chair won’t fit into any other stall. As I result of this, I avoid taking those stalls if at all possible, but I’m not sure that there is any real shame associated with this situation. As for the parking, my husband is frequently the first person to suggest, “It doesn’t matter, just park at the back.”

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  2. Sadanand says:

    In my town Pune(India) these kind of notices are everywhere , people in Pune are notorious for such notices. They write it for everything that troubles them.

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    • lewarcher says:

      Good point. There are a few problems with the shame motivator, one being that the more common signs like this are, the less effective they may be. If I were a non-handicapped person who would park in a handicapped spot in the first place, I also doubt a sign like that would change my behaviour.

      The ‘delinquent referees’ idea would work, because it is the pillory approach: a public shaming. Something along the lines of having a photo taken of someone illegally parking and displaying it on a video screen/billboard/whatever would identify the person to many as one who is inconsiderate.

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  3. AaronS says:

    Only a considerate person can be shamed.

    People who wrongly park in handicapped person are not considerate people.


    HOWEVER, Daniel, I must disagree with your point about slow referees. While the handicapped space issue seems to have a moral lining (e.g., taking spaces from the needy is not good), the issue you seem to be addressing with the economic journal is based more on convenience–or perhaps impatience. Moreover, the unintended consequence of trying to stay off such a list might be to prematurely approve an article that was not properly vetted. And that woud be a shame indeed.

    Why not just have a DEADLINE? If the items are due by X date, then it’s clear whether a person did what they were supposed to do. If there is no particular deadline, but it’s just about not being the last person to turn in your work, then proper vetting may not get done in the rush to not be last.

    Just my take on it.

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  4. Olli M says:

    Good idea, but the 50$ fine sounded off to me: that’s really not high enough to deter this kind of behavior. Add another zero at the end and people will pay attention.

    I currently live in Germany, where the parking ticket is 15€. My friends and I joke about the convenient system of after-the-fact billing for parking: even getting caught every third time it’s only 5€ for parking. This has clearly shifted my behavior from my native Finland with 60-80€ parking tickets. Here I don’t even really mind getting a ticket, I’m just glad it’s so cheap – I also don’t spend long looking for legal parking if I can find a spot where my car won’t get towed. It’s too cheap to feel like a punishment. I still won’t park in a handicap spot, though – that would just feel wrong.

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    • Johan J. says:

      It’s not the price of getting caught that keeps people from offending. It is the chance of getting caught.
      But you are in a very special situation where you are used to higher prices, which makes the german tickets seem cheap. However alcohol is also a lot cheaper now, so do you also drink this more? 😉

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      • Jake W. says:

        More accurately, it’s the cost expectation that doesn’t deter people from offending. That is, it’s the price times the probability of getting caught. The probability of getting ticketed is very small. Multiply “very small” by $50 and it’s easy to see why people offend. Sufficiently increasing the monetary penalty or the probability of being ticketed will deter people.

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  5. Kyle P says:

    Relevant picture of a handicap sign in South Africa:

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  6. Kit says:

    Clearly, the dollar value simply isn’t high enough. My disabled husband is currently studying law. At his university, the penalty is $800 for parking in a disable bay. (This is equivalent to a month’s student payment.) This is much higher than fines for parking there than elsewhere (an equivalent $120 fine more common in local council parking)

    At the beginning of every new year it is always very difficult for him to find parking as new students late for class will often park there (and be later overheard complaining about the high fine fee). By partway into the new year this misuse of the bays stops and he can get parking again.

    Helpfully, the law administration desk can see the disabled bays – and knows all the law students and lecturers who have tickets. She’s freely admitted to my husband that she will call the university ranger to come check on cars that she doesn’t know. She see is as helping enable all thier students and staff to be able to get their education fairly.

    As for the person suggesting short-term parking options – we have those here (10 minute parking bays, 20 minute parking bays etc) that are right next to the disabled bays. It sadly doesn’t stop people parking in disabled bays, though it does seem to reduce it.

    And a final note on the shaming.. Interestingly, this can backfire. My husband once was sitting in his car, parked in a disabled bay. Our daughter was inside getting bread (he wasn’t up that day to getting out himself). He was lectured at length by a woman walking past about how selfish he was – up to the point he pointed out he had a sticker and was there validly. She didn’t even apologise before storming off.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      The efforts of passersby to shame legitimate users can be appalling. I heard of one whose complaint was based entirely on the fact that the user looked happy.

      I think the law building needs to put up two signs:

      * Fine is $800.
      * Building staff phone the rangers whenever a car is parked here, so make sure your placard is easily visible.

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  7. Albany Chris says:

    I might park in the spot with the shaming warning if there was no fine… Depending on the setup I believe there are a lot of ethical problems with Handicapped parking.
    Who can vote against handicapped parking? Apparently nobody – so there is a lot of it in places they’re rarely needed. This leads to rampant abuse since why not use the spots if they are there?
    The theory seems to be if there is any chance all the sots will be used, add another. I may have never in my life seen all the handicapped spots taken in any one place. At my supermarket is it worth having 20 able bodied people a day, 7000 people a year, have to walk 30 feet further when the last 3 (of 8) spots will only be used 10 times a year?

    My doctor friend hands out handicapped permissions to almost every patient who asks. her theory? “There are so many spots, somebody should use them.”

    They built a Home Depot nearby that had a huge unused parking lot. The law required a percentage of spots be handicapped, so there were 27 handicapped spots.

    So I might park in a shaming spot. I certainly would at that Home Depot. Not the ones up front though.

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  8. tammy says:

    i carry post-it notes in my vehicle. with two daughters in wheelchairs, it gets very annoying trying to find spots for our van and very irritating when someone who doesnt need it parks there! we have left several {nice but to the point} post-its on windshields.

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