COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Lexington woman claims she was not allowed to park in a section at the Columbiana Centre mall without paying for parking on Saturday.
Christy Taylor, who recently had foot surgery, sought a closer spot. But all of the handicapped and accessible spots were taken.
Taylor has all the proper documentation to be able to park in a handicapped, or accessible parking spot, but likely due to the influx of holiday shoppers right now- all of those spots were full.
She says she needed to park close to the food court to return some items and noticed a roped area outside of the location listed as “upfront parking.” It is a $5 charge and a service provided by a company called AmeriPark.
Mall officials say this is being offered until Christmas Eve and consists of about 40 spaces.
Taylor says she pulled in to an open spot in the upfront parking section, but to her surprise, she was stopped by an attendant and told she needed to pay.
She adds, she wasn’t the only one turned away.
"I rolled my window down and he said 'are you going to pay' and I said, ‘no,’ and he said, ‘well you can't park here.’ And I said, ‘but I have a handicapped placard, I can't walk that far’ and he said, ‘then you can't park here. And I said, ‘that's ridiculous, all the handicapped parking spaces are full’ and he said, ‘I'm sorry, I don't make the rules.’ He said, ‘I just turned away 4 to 5 other people right before you that were handicapped also because they refused to pay the five dollars,’" Christy Taylor said.
Taylor says she ended up driving around and finding a spot 15 minutes later that was close enough to get her where she needed to go. The scenario had Taylor and others asking: can a business turn someone away with a disability from parking in a closer spot?
According to ABLE SC, who advocates for those with disabilities, the answer is yes, as long as they are not discriminating and have the required number of accessible spots. However, Kimberly Tissot, Able SC Executive Director adds, there is something businesses should start doing now.
“1 in 7 people in South Carolina have a disability. We would encourage the mall to open up more accessible spots instead of just a few,” Tissot said. “The disability community wishes that there would be more accessible spots available because even being ADA compliant, there’s just never enough spots when people with disabilities want to go shopping.”
After WIS looked into the story, Taylor says mall officials apologized to her. They tell us quote "handicapped guests are not required to pay for parking" and they say they are still looking into the incident.
We also asked mall officials, why charge for parking in this area? They stated this is an amenity to the customers. A spokesperson for the mall’s property owner, Brookfield Properties, says the paid parking spots began on Thanksgiving evening and they selected those spots because of the hassle of parking at malls during the holiday season. This is the first year they’ve introduced this program as a “perk” and thought it would be more efficient than valet parking.
“We know that parking, especially during the busy holiday season, can be a hassle and is a common shopper pain point,” the spokesperson said via email. “Therefore, we implemented this program on one side of the shopping center to provide a simple, expedient option for guests who want the convenience of parking up front. We’ve implemented this program at several of our centers and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Many guests have been enjoying this holiday perk.”
The mall has over 4100 parking spaces – of those, 82 are handicap only. 44 are being utilized for Upfront Parking. The spokesperson said there is never a charge for handicap parking.
“There is never a charge for handicap parking at Columbiana Centre,” the spokesperson said. Our guests who require handicap parking will never have to pay for it. If handicap parking is not available, they are welcome to park up front for free."
The spokesperson said they are investigating the incident that prompted the community’s outrage.
WIS has reached out to AmeriPark, who operates the “upfront parking.” We have not yet received a statement from them.
If you feel like you were discriminated against and would like to file a complaint through the Americans With Disabilities Act you can visit https://www.ada.gov/complaint/