Fined for being legal: When riding while disabled cops a $600 fine

When a parking inspector unwisely decided that anyone who is sufficiently able-bodied to ride a motorcycle cannot qualify as disabled, Alan Francis became furious.

Last week Mr Francis, from Symonston, parked in three-hour disabled parking space at the Canberra hospital, made sure his sticker to use the space was prominently on display, then grabbed his walking stick and hobbled in to visit a terminally ill neighbour.

Disabled pensioner and former firefighter Alan Francis of Symonston, who parked his motorbike at the Canberra Hospital recently in a 3-hour disabled spot for an appointment and left his sticker on the bike. He returned to a $600 parking fine.  Photo: Karleen Minney

Disabled pensioner and former firefighter Alan Francis of Symonston, who parked his motorbike at the Canberra Hospital recently in a 3-hour disabled spot for an appointment and left his sticker on the bike. He returned to a $600 parking fine. Photo: Karleen Minney

When he returned an hour or so later, he was astonished to find he had been slapped with a $600 parking fine. A woman who had witnessed it was in tears.

"The woman had been working on traffic control in the area. She told the inspector that I was parked there legitimately because I had showed her my disabled sticker and explained that's why I needed to park my bike close to the building," Mr Francis explained.

"But he [the parking inspector] wouldn't hear it. His view was that if I can ride a Harley, I'm not disabled."

Mr Francis suffers from a painful nerve condition. An operation to correct a spinal condition left him with no feeling below his hips, aside from a fierce nerve burn down to his legs and feet which intensifies as each day progresses.

By mid-afternoon each day, the pain becomes almost unbearable so the former firefighter keeps busiest during the morning.

He still rides his Harley Davidson because he loves motorcycles and getting together with his mates on a group ride day remains a great joy in his life. He gained his licence in New Zealand at age 15, raced bikes successfully for many years, owned his own motorcycle franchise, and still now rides almost every day.

"With my spinal condition, riding a motorcycle is actually more comfortable for me than driving a car because I can shift my weight around in the saddle," he said.

"I'm well aware that my particular situation and circumstances are unusual, so I go out of my way to try to explain my situation to people."

He can't raise his leg very high but just enough to swing it over his low-slung Harley's saddle. Minor modifications to the bike's footpegs allow him to use his numb feet to change gear and brake.

Off the bike, he has to be careful where he steps and uses an electric wheelchair to provide more confident mobility. If he places his feet on uneven ground, he runs the very real risk of toppling over, as his broken ribs show.

The steep parking fine is well more than a week's pension for Mr Francis. On appeal, it's certain to be rescinded but Mr Francis said he already has lost hours of his own time fixing a blunder which should never have happened in the first place.

"It's the principle of it; it's the height of arrogance and ignorance to make a judgement that simply because someone who is disabled can still ride a motorcycle, they are somehow gaming the system," he said.

"It's troubling to me that there are people out there who, even now, still think this way."