Ability New Brunswick wants city and town councils across the province to revise their municipal parking bylaws to increase the fine for accessible parking violations to $172.50.
Misuse of accessible parking spaces is increasingly becoming a problem, said Haley Flaro, executive director of the provincial community-based, non-profit organization.
"It's probably one of the biggest complaints that we get," she said.
"We're seeing people missing [medical] appointments [because they're] not able to find parking, or parking at the far end of the lot, and if you're using a mobility device [such as a wheelchair] and maybe in a lower position, it's really not safe to be wheeling past cars that are backing in and out, so there's a safety concern as well."
Only people with disabilities who have a valid disabled parking permit and placard issued by Service New Brunswick are legally allowed to park in designated disabled spots.
The need is great, said Flaro. New Brunswick has the second highest rate of disability in Canada, with mobility being the most prevalent disability type, she said.
New Brunswick also has one of the oldest populations in Canada. "So we have a really high number of people living with a mobility disability … So we need to have access to accessible parking so people can go to appointments and recreation and be involved in their communities."
But many motorists are using designated accessible spaces because they either want a spot close to wherever they're going, or because they only plan to be a few minutes, said Flaro.
Some people are simply unaware of how important the closer, larger spots are to those in need and the hardship they're causing, she said.
For others, there isn't enough deterrence, said Flaro. Fines currently range from $15 to $172.50 in cities across the province, while at least one town, Woodstock, has no penalty for misuse of accessible parking, according to data compiled by the organization.
By comparison, Kingston, Ont., which has a similar population to New Brunswick cities at 123,000, has a $300 fine for accessible parking infractions, said Flaro.
In Toronto, the fine for using an accessible parking spot without a permit is $450 and anyone caught using someone else's permit illegally can be fined up to $5,000, she said.
Ability New Brunswick would like to see bylaw officers in the province be authorized to issue fines of $172.50 — the same fine police can issue under the Motor Vehicle Act for misuse of accessible parking spaces.
"We think this would be one way to have people kind of take notice and get serious," said Flaro. "We think that increasing that deterrent will have an impact."
Enforcement also needs to be improved, she said. "We know it's not happening in many communities."
Meanwhile, the organization continues to try to raise awareness about accessible parking and the new requirements under the New Brunswick Barrier-Free regulations, which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. They stipulate the width and length of spaces, that they have painted surfaces and vertical signs.
Ability New Brunswick has sent a letter to all eight cities, requesting fines be increased to $172.50 and calling for a review of accessible parking spaces to ensure they meet the new requirements.
Saint John will be the first municipality to deal with the request at Monday night's regularly scheduled meeting.
City staff are recommending council refer the matter to the parking commission.
Ability New Brunswick also plans to send a similar request to towns in the near future.