Mobile, Ala., Airport president pushes for free parking for disabled veterans

By JOHN SHARP | Alabama Media Group, Birmingham | Published: July 23, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Chris Curry, as president of the Mobile Airport Authority, will walk around the terminals and talk to customers about their experiences.

One recent conversation Curry had with a veteran who lives on the Eastern Shore sparked an idea that, a few years ago, became law in Florida. He hopes it’s replicated in Alabama: Free airport parking for disabled veterans.

“The gentleman was talking about how much he enjoyed flying out of (the Downtown Mobile Airport) due to its proximity, but that in Florida, he’s allowed to park at the airport for free,” said Curry, who was once the executive director at Tallahassee International Airport. “When I was in Tallahassee, we introduced that before it was put into law in Florida.”

Said Curry, “It was a reminder that certainly, as an airport, if we can do our part to make lives a little easier for disabled vets, we want to do that.”

Curry, himself a veteran of the Air Force, said the free parking plan will be discussed during the Airport Authority’s meeting July 31. But Curry said that as the organization’s president, he has the authority to institute the parking discount himself and plans to do so.

“The financial impact certainly won’t be that substantial,” Curry said.

The program will be rolled out at Mobile Regional Airport in west Mobile, starting in October. It will eventually be added at the newly opened terminal at the Downtown Mobile Airport, Curry said.

Parking at Mobile Regional is $8 a day for short-term parking, and $6 daily for long-term.

Curry said he was unclear as to how many veterans might benefit from the discount. Data will be analyzed on an annual basis.

In Alabama, there are approximately 20,000 residents with a disabled veterans tag through the Alabama Department of Revenue. The parking discount will apply for disabled veterans in any state, Curry said.

He said the discount would apply to only those with a license plate for disabled veterans.

“The verification would be someone with that tag,” said Curry. “At (the Downtown Mobile Airport), the parking is pay as you go, and it’s not a manned type of environment, where as Regional Airport, an attendant can come out and physically check if that person has a tag.”

Verification concerns existed in Florida when the state passed a law requiring all of the airports provide free parking for disabled veterans.

In 2015, the same year the Legislature passed a law allowing free parking for disabled veterans, a disabled Marine was denied the benefit at Tampa International Airport. Veterans were only being given the free parking benefit if they had specialized equipment, such as ramps, lifts or hand or foot controls, which is allowed under Florida state law.

Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert, who as a state senator in 2016, sponsored legislation in the Florida Legislature to clarify the law requiring that airports give free parking for all vehicles displaying a license plate for disabled veteran regardless whether they had specialized equipment.

She said the legislation has been a “wonderful thing,” despite some of the initial confusion over eligibility. Florida, at the time Detert’s bill was passed, had about 41,000 disabled veterans, according to a Miami Herald report.

“Those are the kind of bills people want to see us do and are fun to do and then you get people who use them, and it’s uplifting,” said Detert. “It’s such a small thing, but it’s also such a big thing for vets.”

Michael Laven, airport administration and contracts manager at Pensacola International Airport, said the Florida law and its clarification “has taken the burden off local parking personnel” at airports in determining who receives free parking.

©2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
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