Social Research - The Use and Value of the Blue Badge Scheme
Current Use of the Blue Badge
6.1 The research comprised a mix of those who used the Blue Badge predominantly as the driver, those who used it as the passenger and those who could be either driver or passenger.
6.2 The Blue Badge was used by different people to undertake different tasks. This included shopping and medical appointments as the main reasons for travel, but participants had also used the Badge for work, education and leisure activities.
6.3 The location where the Blue Badge was used for parking was dependent on the reason for travel. The research found that people used their Badge to park in both off-street private car parks and disabled bays, as well as on- street parking such as at single or double yellow lines. This indicates how the scope of the Blue Badge Scheme has expanded beyond the provisions of the original Act of Parliament regarding on-street parking concessions and has been adopted by some operators of off-street car parking as a means of meeting their obligations to disabled people.
6.4 There was no real consistent time of day or day of the week when research participants used their Blue Badge - it was all dependent on the reason for the journey they were making. Some participants suggested it became more difficult to park at the weekends - particularly on-street because of relaxed parking restrictions on single yellow lines, as well as the general increases in traffic.
6.5 Focus group participants in particular commented on their perceptions that there was a lack of disabled parking spaces. In Aberdeen City this had been compounded by the introduction of Green Badges (for those who have difficulty parking in Blue Badge spaces). Lack of spaces was mentioned in some hospitals and most city centre areas.
The Value of the Blue Badge
6.6 The benefits of a Blue Badge were clear. The telephone respondents picked up on the practical aspects of the Badge, in that it allowed individuals to park closer to their destination and gave them extra space to manoeuvre in and out of their car. Focus group participants agreed with these benefits, but suggested that the most valuable aspect of the Blue Badge was to retain a sense of independence and allow people to 'get out and about' and to maintain a certain quality of life.
6.7 Financial benefits of the Blue Badge were not high on the list of priorities for the people we spoke to, although some participants mentioned the savings made from parking charges as a benefit. Far more important was the value for money that the Badge represented. At most, the Badge cost £20 - although some participants received the Blue Badge for free. This was thought to demonstrate reasonable value for money when compared to the potential cost of parking. There were strong views however that the cost of the Blue Badge should be uniform across all local authority areas.
6.8 The value of the Badge was also demonstrated in the numbers of people who said that they would go out less often, if they found themselves without their Blue Badge. Some suggested that they would be 'housebound' without it; and one participant indicated the Badge helped her to maintain employment. Parents also commented that the Badge was a 'catalyst' to going out and they would be limited without it.
6.9 Public transport was not thought to be a viable alternative to using a Blue Badge. Participants commented on the inflexible nature of public transport and the difficulty in using it. Most frustrating with public transport was the need to plan their journey in advance to allow preparations to be made (for example, ramps to be put in place and the necessary staff on hand to assist).
Restrictions and Enforcements
6.10 Our analysis of the survey found that the vast majority of Blue Badge holders believed they understood the rules and regulations of its use. Focus group participants agreed that they understood - and yet there were contradictory views expressed about whether participants could park on double yellow lines. People were also confused about the use of 'clock timers' recently issued with the Badge for use in England.
6.11 While Badge holders felt they understood the Scheme; they commented that this was not replicated by those who should be enforcing it. Participants felt that some police and traffic wardens had an insufficient understanding of the Scheme. There were examples of individuals receiving parking tickets despite parking within the rules of the Blue Badge scheme.
6.12 There were also mixed views on whether the Blue Badge can be used when the Badge holder was not present. Some participants said that they used disabled bays while carrying out tasks on behalf of the Blue Badge holder, and some Badge holders encouraged their family members to do this. Others firmly believed that if the Blue Badge holder was not present, then there was no need to take up a Blue Badge space.
6.13 Misuse was commonly experienced by Blue Badge holders. This included the misuse of disabled parking bays more so than misuse of the Blue Badge through forgery or theft (although one group of focus group participants thought this was a problem). Common 'offenders' who misused disabled bays were suggested as taxi drivers, young mothers, and those with 'expensive cars' who liked the wider spaces to safeguard their vehicles.
6.14 Participants discussed what they felt would be appropriate punishments for parking in a Blue Badge space without a Badge. These included parking fines, clamping, towing the vehicle, and penalty points on the offender's driving licence.
6.15 People with physical disabilities and mobility problems should be eligible for a Blue Badge. Another suggestion included individuals with learning disabilities. Participants thought that the Badge should be distributed on a 'case by case' basis with individual situations considered by GPs and the local authority. Some people suggested the eligibility criteria were too lenient, making it easy for people who had a good relationship with their GP to be awarded a Badge.
6.16 Participants spoke of the 'stigma' that surrounds being a Blue Badge holder and the public's perception that the Badges are for 'older people' and 'those in wheelchairs'. Several participants - including parents of disabled children spoke of being scrutinised by members of the public when using disabled spaces to see if 'there is a genuine disability'.
6.17 Overall the Badge was highly valued by the Blue Badge holders. People were very protective of their Badge and were fearful of losing it through misuse or lending it to others. It was viewed by some as their ticket to independence and helped them maintain a quality of life. It would certainly have an impact on each of the participants if they were to find themselves without it.