‘Unjust’ reserved parking policy quietly revised

Transport Malta’s policy to refuse to provide reserved parking to people with disabilities unless they personally drove was quietly changed after it was found to be unjust and potentially discriminatory.

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud noted that TM was reluctant to publicise this change as it feared it might open the doors to abuse, but recommended that people – particularly blue badge holders – should be made aware of it as it could make a significant difference to their quality of life.

Unfortunately, the change came too late for the woman at the heart of the complaint which led the Ombudsman to intervene, as she succumbed to the progressive degenerative illness that led to her request for reserved parking in the first place.

Reserved space denied to husband of oxygen-dependent wheelchair user

The complaint was filed by the son of a 70-year-old woman, whose condition rendered her unable to walk and dependent on a constant supply of oxygen. Her husband regularly had to bring in heavy oxygen cylinders, and every time she needed to get out, he would need to carry smaller oxygen-providing equipment as well as a wheelchair.

The difficulties were compounded by the fact that the woman lived in a one-way uphill road, in an area where finding a free parking space was extremely difficult. A request for a reserved parking space was made, but refused by Transport Malta since the woman did not drive, in line with its policy at the time. An appeal to the Review Panel for Reserved Parking was also unsuccessful.

The Ombudsman’s investigation showed that while the stated criteria for reserved parking would have allowed parking spaces to be reserved in cases where the person with disability was not the driver, TM determined that these could be considered as guidelines, and in 2017, it decided that only drivers should be given reserved parking.

Original policy ‘causing unnecessary hardship’

“The facts showed that the policy was unjust and in certain cases, discriminatory. It was causing unnecessary hardship to vulnerable persons and should be reviewed,” the Office of the Ombudsman said.

The case was also taken up by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability, which is represented on the TM board. These efforts were successful, and the policy was ultimately changed to allow relatives of blue badge holders residing in the same address to apply for a reserved parking bay.

Though his own mother did not end up benefiting from the change of policy, her son nevertheless expressed his gratitude to the Ombudsman, stating that he was pleased that others facing similar situations would be spared the same inconveniences from now on.