Drivers caught misusing parking spaces for the disabled in public carparks now face heftier fines, The Straits Times has learnt.
Fines for first-time offenders have been quadrupled from $50 to $200 since December, with the authorities saying that they are monitoring the situation and will consider stiffer measures if necessary.
The Ministry of National Development (MND) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) revealed the higher penalties last week, in response to media queries.
"The higher fines help to deter abled people from using the accessible lots. People with disabilities will then not be deprived of such lots," they said in a joint statement.
Accessible parking spaces are about 11/2 times the size of regular ones. To use them, motorists must display a label identifying them as a person with disabilities (Class 1) or caregiver (Class 2). Caregivers are allowed to occupy the lots for up to 60 minutes, to allow them to pick up or drop off a person with disabilities.
In 2014, 1,229 Class 2 parking labels were issued, 62 per cent more than the 757 in 2010.
Over the same period, the number of Class 1 parking labels given to disabled drivers increased by 39 per cent, from 271 to 377.
The Government said last year it is looking to tighten the way these labels are issued, following a spike in users and feedback about the shortage of such reserved spaces.
Earlier this month, ST reported on how a wheelchair user had difficulty getting into his car, which was parked in a spot for the disabled, after a taxi was parked next to his car. The story reached over 477,000 users on Facebook, and was shared more than 3,000 times.
Besides stiffer fines, the Government is looking to do more. The MSF and SG Enable, a government-established agency to help people with disabilities, are piloting a new design of accessible parking labels to boost visibility and help in enforcement.
The new labels, currently used by members of the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), are set to be introduced in the middle of the year.
The authorities said public awareness campaigns have helped reduce the number of offences.
The Housing Board does not track offences specific to illegal parking in disabled spaces in the 1,800 or so carparks it operates.
But at carparks run by the Urban and Redevelopment Authority, fewer have been booked for such offences. In 2013, there were 237 summonses issued, but this has dropped to 175 in 2014, and 153 last year. URA operates 134 off-street carparks, as well as other kerbside ones around the island.
"Although the numbers may be small, the inconvenience that unauthorised parking causes for people with disabilities is significant at the time of need," said MND and MSF.
HWA president Edmund Wan said stiffer fines would help deter offenders as it "hurts them in the pocket", but would not eliminate the problem completely.
He said HWA is looking to run a public education campaign this year to raise awareness.
Mr Dexter Goh, 57, a wheelchair user who drives a car, said every few months he encounters an incident where a disabled parking space is misused. This is better than five years ago, when he came across a case every few weeks.
Still, Mr Goh, an administrative executive, said: "We need the lots because of the extra space, so that we can open the car doors fully, and get in from our wheelchairs."