If you have one of those blue disabled driver placards hanging from your rearview mirror, listen up.
Your days of free street parking are over.
Many people with blue placards are truly disabled, but a sizable number have used the blue cards to scam free parking. That abuse has prompted changes. Many haven't been paying attention to warnings. Now they'll have to pay attention or it will cost them.
That's because a new state law being administered by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White takes effect Jan. 1, and it will bring sweeping changes.
Forget the blue placards — to park on city streets for free, you'll need the new yellow and gray placard, which is given to people whose doctors say they can't physically cope with parking kiosks or meters.
You may still be able to use the blue placard to park in shopping malls, but if you park on the street, you'll have to pay the meter like everyone else. And if you don't, you'll get a $65 parking ticket downtown.
At the start of 2014, City Hall will offer a 15-day grace period for the old blue placards. But when that grace period ends, you'll have to pay.
Under the state law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn last year, new stringent standards have been applied to cut down on fraud and abuse. Doctors have been given new guidelines, and if you meet them, you can apply for that new yellow and gray placard that will allow you to park on the street for free.
According to Bill Bogdan, disability liaison with the secretary of state's office, there were 299,530 blue disabled parking placards in Illinois last year.
This year, according to Bogdan, only 30,510 drivers have qualified for the gray and yellow placards under the new standards.
From almost 300,000 to 30,000. Hmmm. That's a lot of free parkers who will suddenly have to pay.
"Just by the sheer number of placards that we issued — only about 31,000 — it's definitely going to reduce fraud and the abuse that was taking place," Bogdan said. "Under the old system, 100 percent of the people that had parking placards and disability plates were eligible. And now, we're at about 10 percent are eligible for the new exemptions. That's a significant number of individuals that didn't meet the eligibility criteria to obtain the new exempt parking."
What we called "free parking" under the old system wasn't exactly free. It cost taxpayers around $25 million last year, city officials said.
Under the disastrous city parking meter rate hike negotiated by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, taxpayers had to pay the meter company, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, whenever the blue placards were used.
Then Daley retired and went to work for a law firm, Katten Muchin Rosenman, which, coincidentally enough, was the same law firm Daley used to broker the parking meter rate hike deal that Chicago hates.
So if you have a gripe, tell it to the Daleys. Or ask them to pay your parking ticket.
This change in the law will irk the truly disabled who haven't been heeding warnings issued by White's office. They'll have to scramble for a doctor's appointment, then apply to the secretary of state for a new gray and yellow placard.
Others will be angry, too, including the perfectly healthy drivers who considered it a perk. They will shriek like skinned cats, though to me their cries of pain will sound as perky as that guy singing the "Trololo" song on YouTube.
Legend has it that the blue placards have been passed down from grandparents to the young, like Bears season tickets or some other precious treasure.
Just imagine the talk at the funeral luncheon: "I didn't get grandma's china, or her silver, but I got her blue parking pass! Check me out, I'm parking for free!"