Abuse of the parking card for people with a disability, the blue badge, will be curbed by the imposition of some of the harshest fines in Europe, according to Oliver Scicluna.

In a new law regularising parking concessions for people with a disability, currently before Parliament, abusers will be liable to a fine of at least €230 and have their car towed. If they repeat the offence a second time, the fine will rise to between €1,000 and €1,500, their vehicle will be towed and the blue badge surrendered forever.

To date, there is no law regulating such parking concession and abusers are slapped with a €23 parking fine, something some even manage to slip out of.

“The new law will make a difference, though not overnight, as we also need to overcome the challenge of the ‘uijja’ mentality. Unfortunately, in Malta, people learn only when you hit their pockets. We are not in favour of fines but it is the only solution to curb abuse,” Mr Scicluna, the Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability, told this newspaper.

Blue badge abusers will be liable to a fine of at least €230 and have their car towed. Photo: Steve Zammit LupiBlue badge abusers will be liable to a fine of at least €230 and have their car towed. Photo: Steve Zammit Lupi

There are about 9,000 people who have a blue badge, which will soon start being issued on anti-copy paper, similar to that used for car logbooks.

We also need to overcome the challenge of the ‘uijja’ mentality

Forging or copying blue badges is one of the abuses that the National Commission for the Rights of People with Disabilities encounters regularly. It collected at least 200 such badges in three years.

“Sadly, we have seen a lot of abuse over the years and it’s heart-breaking because when a blue badge or a reserved parking is exploited it causes an inconvenience to someone else who really needs it,” Mr Scicluna said.

With Malta and Estonia being the only two European countries without blue badge enforcement, the commission looked into laws enacted in other countries.

In Italy, offenders are fined up to €500, in Slovenia the penalty is €120 and in Belgium €110. In the UK, fines can go up to £1,000.

“The local fines will be among the highest in Europe and I believe there will be a ripple effect with people learning not to abuse the system,” he added.

According to the new law, abuse includes an expired badge or use of one that is still in circulation after the holder passes away.

Rules regulating its proper use will start being printed on the badge itself so people will have no excuse they are not aware of regulations.

“You can never eliminate all abuse and exploitation is rampant internationally. But this is no excuse and I believe we can regulate ourselves because of our small size,” Mr Scicluna said.

While the Bill awaits its third reading, the commission is pushing for the introduction of personalised parking in exceptional cases – spots reserved for specific people with a disability that also display the individual’s car number-plate. Personalised parking goes against Transport Malta policy.

There are 3,000 authorised bays reserved for people with a blue badge. Those displaying a specific number plate were not approved by the commission or Transport Malta and were probably authorised by local councils, Mr Scicluna said.

He does not believe reserved parking should be authorised by local councils, which, he pointed out, did not want to lose any votes.

In 2013, Transport Malta had banned personalised parking to cut down on abuse and while the commission understood the transport watchdog’s concern, there were people who lived in congested areas or had mobility issues and, therefore, could not park far away from their home, Mr Scicluna noted.

The commission was now having talks with the authorities over exceptions to an outright ban.

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