Blue parking badge failing those most in need

Frank Gardner


There ought to be parking permits specifically for wheelchair users like the BBC’s Frank Gardner
— Boris Johnson


Suppose you’re in the car and you are looking for somewhere to park.  In fact, you’ve been looking for somewhere to park for the past 25 minutes, and the kids are starting to hit each other and the windows are fogging up so that you have to rub them with your sleeve.  People behind you keep hooting because you are going so slowly, and your stressometer needle is edging towards critical as you drift further and further from the place you need to be ;  and then suddenly you see a space — a gap between a row of cars of at least six axe handles in length.  Enough for you to park!

Triumphantly, you indicate and inch towards the space in question.  And then what do you see, when you draw abreast ?  You see that the space is reserved for disabled drivers, and there are no disabled drivers currently using the space.  Is there anything more frustrating ?

Frank Gardner in wheelchair

Well, yes, of course there is.  Let us suppose you are yourself a disabled driver, and you desperately need to park so that you can unload your wheelchair and get on with your life.  You, too, have been going round and round in the traffic, looking for a space where you can legally station your vehicle.  At last, you see a haven, a blue-badge zone, and you start to make towards it ;  and just as you are about to indicate to begin the parking manoeuvre, a car shoots past you — blue badge in the window — and then, with all the insolent grace of a Las Vegas valet parker, the driver reverses into your spot and bounds out, whistling, remote-locking with a backwards squirt of electrons, and leaving you to get on with your search.  That is the everyday experience of Frank Gardner, the BBC’s excellent security correspondent.

As everyone knows, Frank was shot by al-Qaeda, while on an assignment in Saudi Arabia in 2004.  In spite of severe damage to his spine, he has gone on to make an extraordinary recovery.  He skis and he reports for the BBC from around the world, and yet he still needs an Electric folding wheelchair.  He needs space, he explains, to park his car and get out his equipment.  “For me, it’s often a question of physics.  I can’t park in between other cars like a normal driver because I need to open my car door wide enough to bring my wheelchair alongside.  The few disabled parking bays are almost invariably taken up by blue-badge drivers I’ve seen walking to and from their cars.” Frank’s point is that the benefit of blue-badge parking has been extended so widely that it now fails to help those who need it most.

Frank Gardner on the slopes

This week the Government is announcing another attempt to reform a system that currently awards 2.5-million blue badges to drivers across the country.  There is talk of new independent medical tests, after auditors revealed a few years ago that about 16,000 blue-badge holders were shamelessly using the entitlements of dead relatives.  According to yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, ministers think that as many as half of all blue badges could be going to people who don’t need them.  If so, that is an extraordinary statistic and we must of course wish the Government every possible success in its attempts to stamp out fraud.  If it is really true that so many people are effectively swindling the councils out of parking charges, then that is deeply unfair and expensive for the law-abiding.

I think we are entitled to wonder, however, how much success the Government will have in pruning the scheme.  The iron law of benefits is that once they have been conferred, they are almost impossible to remove — witness the rage of the middle classes at the decision to means-test child benefit.  For every instance of a blue badge that is being flagrantly abused, and rightly removed, there will be hard-luck and borderline cases ;  and, if the campaign to rein back the blue badge is pursued too zealously, one can imagine that local papers will become full of sad stories — of public-spirited people who could no longer ferry the elderly and infirm, because they lacked the necessary permit, and so on.

It is highly unlikely, in short, that the new anti-fraud campaign will reverse the current expansion of blue badges — and, even if it did, it wouldn’t really help Frank Gardner.

The numbers have already boomed so astronomically that the central London boroughs — Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and the City of London — have successfully sought exemptions from the normal rules.  Blue-badge drivers are normally allowed to park on yellow and double yellow lines, and if that happened in central London, the whole place would seize up.  It’s not just the UK blue-badge holders who would be entitled to park indefinitely on double yellows on narrow and congested main roads.  The privilege is, in principle, available to any blue-badge holder in Europe.  Average traffic speeds (which I am proud to say are inching up to about 9.4 mph) would collapse back down again.

'Handicapped' sign

So the obvious answer is to do as Frank himself suggests, and create a new category of wheelchair-using disabled driver.  He believes that the number of genuinely severely physically disabled people who drive cars is relatively small.  There cannot be that many people who need to move into their wheelchairs, he says, and he would therefore like a special W sticker — agreed by the central London boroughs — for people in his position.  They would have special rights to park on yellow lines, to take account of their special circumstances.  It is an interesting idea, and I propose that we take it forward.

Of course, there may be those who complain that this will create “two tiers” of disabled drivers, and “devalue” the blue-badge sticker.  The trouble is surely that the scheme is already at risk of being devalued.  We are a warm-hearted species, and we like to confer benefits on as many people as possible, but if you expand an entitlement too recklessly, you end up reducing its value for everyone, and especially for those who need it most.


Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.

11 thoughts on “Blue parking badge failing those most in need”

  1. In the early sixties a Dr. Beeching produced a report for the then Conservative government, in which he recommended dismantling the network of branch railway lines.  He was an economist and, as far as I can tell, no evidence has ever been produced that he knew the first thing about transport in general or railways in particular ;  nevertheless the government followed his recommendation and the poor state of public transport we see to-day is the result.

    He did, however, make one patently sensible recommendation :  that parking on the Queen’s highway be forbidden.  Even if one couldn’t see the evidence, one would not be surprised — on return, say, from a trip to α-Centauri — to learn that the government had failed to follow the one sensible piece of advice offered.

    When he proposed this proscription, it was feasible :  relatively few had driving licences ;  fewer motor-cars of their own.  Moreover it could have been achieved without limiting the economic prospects of the masses :  if, instead of allowing speculators to litter the place with empty office blocks, the government (whose responsibility includes town planning) had prescribed the building of multi-storey parking, there would be —

    • first, plenty of room to park — including provision for wheelchair users ;
    • secondly, streets clear for moving traffic — because not blocked by parked motor-cars ;  and
    • thirdly, a greater natural speed of traffic — most of the traffic seems to consist of people trying to find somewhere to park in towns desperately short of off-road facilities.

    Perhaps what is needed is for towns to take over some of the many commercial buildings falling vacant during the recession and to initiate the construction of this off-street parking.  The belief that the government can levy ever increasing taxes on road users but not therefrom provide — and maintain — the infrastructure needed for people to go about the business that actually enables them to pay those taxes is something that needs to be purged from what politicians please to call their minds.

    How absurd, by the way, to describe the manifestly able Frank Gardner as ‘disabled’ ;  he’s handicapped.  Perhaps the way to kick-start the ‘big society’, which the Prime Minister nauses on about as had he invented it, is to re-introduce English as the language of this benighted country ;  to do away with the politically correct, ‘inclusive’ drivel that weighs down the ghastly diction of the modern Briton (and, it must be said, other former speakers of English).

    Perhaps the answer to the instant problem is to stop using the stick-man-in-wheelchair sign to denote all handicapped and to use it solely to denote wheelchair users ;  those that can walk but with impairment might have a walking-stick man.

    Part of the problem is that, whereas, once in his wheelchair, Mr. Gardner is actually quite mobile, many of those that can walk but whose walking is impaired are severely limited in their mobility once out of their motor-cars ;  are they to be denied the privilege of parking close to their destinations because not quite sufficiently handicapped to need a chair ?


  2. Car keys don’t, I think, release a burst of electrons, as beta-radiation is rather nasty. They use an electromagnetic wave, usually in the radio frequencies but sometimes infra-red.

  3. Mel, I’m not too worried about the electrons. It’s the backward squirts that bother me so; Miliband, E, for example.

  4. After the absence of any references to a walking programme in Boris Johnson’s final budget, published last week, Green London Assembly member Jenny Jones said: “He is constantly putting cars and other traffic ahead of pedestrians by getting rid of traffic lights and squeezing funding for safer roads.”

    This is true: Many feel that Boris Johnson has been a weather-cock of a mayor, too spineless to be a firm sign-post. He “supports” cycling but does everything he can to appease the motorist.

  5. In response to Jenny Jones’s comment, Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor’s transport adviser, is quoted as saying, “Rather than focus on a solitary year, we have numerous initiatives that we have already [supported] and will continue to support this mayoral objective.”

    Kulveer Ranger — is that an off-road motor-car ?


  6. “will continue to support this mayoral objective”

    Which mayoral objective?

    Boris Johnson added: “If I were the Government, I would think seriously about that fuel duty stabiliser, because when it costs more to fill your tank than to fly to Rome, something is seriously wrong.”

    What an utterly silly statement.

    When a box of chocolates costs more than a transistor radio, something is seriously wrong.

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