Some able-bodied people get free parking downtown on a daily basis thanks to the use of a handicapped placard.
There's nothing that parking monitors can do about it - even if it seems obvious that a handicapped placard is being abused, officials said.
Kim White, president of the River City Company, said handicapped placard abuse ties up dozens of downtown parking spaces "every single day, all day long. Most of these are downtown workers."
One young, seemingly spry Courts Building worker parks her gray Acura on Cherry or Sixth Street for free while co-workers have to pay. It ties up a valuable spot near the high-traffic courts.
Brent Matthews, CARTA operations director, said he and his parking "ambassadors" see many handicapped placards displayed on cars downtown and often see the same cars on a daily basis. He said the card allows the operator to park at any regular meter as long or he or she wants.
He says his staff has no way of knowing whether the driver of a vehicle displaying the placard is handicapped or not and doesn't try to find out.
Mr. Matthews said his staff does check to see whether or not handicapped placards are expired. They have to be renewed every two years. The initial cost is $21.50 and the renewal cost is $3.
Approximately 164,000 handicapped placards are issued each year throughout the state of Tennessee. In Hamilton County last year, there were 11,088 issued for permanent disability and another 893 for temporary disability.
County Clerk Bill Knowles said a person applying for a handicapped placard has to present a certification of the disability signed by a physician, physician's assistant or a nurse practitioner.
Debbie Rollins of his staff said, "You are not allowed to use it unless the disabled person who took out the placard is in the vehicle."