Many states offer a variety of free parking options for people that have disabled license plates or parking placards. And although the exemptions vary by state, most include free parking at meters and in no parking zones. Florida goes one step further in this respect, and extends free parking privileges to include airports and cruise ship piers, and even exempts qualified disabled drivers from toll road charges. That’s good news for anyone planning a vacation to the Sunshine State, as these exemptions are also available to visitors. And although the required paperwork is minimal, it’s essential to know the rules and regulations, in order to take advantage of these money-saving programs.
Free Parking at Cruise Ship Piers
With parking rates at Florida cruise ship piers approaching $20 a day, the savings on parking for a seven-day cruise can be substantial, if the fees are waived. Unfortunately, the regulations are a great source of confusion; and misinterpretation of the law often leaves travelers ineligible for the exemption.
Under Florida state law, free parking must be maintained at cruise ship terminals for passengers who drive vehicles with ramps, lifts or hand controls; and for people that have a toll exemption permit from the Sate of Florida. That’s the minimum law, but there’s no statute prohibiting the ports from expanding that criteria. Such is the case with the Miami Seaport, which allows all passengers with a disabled parking placard to park for free. You need to show your placard and fill out a form when you enter the lot, but it’s a pretty easy process. No advance arrangements need to be made.
It should be noted that Miami is the only Florida port that has instituted this expanded criteria. At all other Florida ports you must either arrive in an adapted vehicle or have a toll exemption permit. There are no exceptions, and it’s all strictly monitored. Even if you own an adapted vehicle, but take another vehicle to the port, you still won’t be granted the exemption. The adapted vehicle must be physically present. And again, there are no exceptions to this rule.
Free Pass at the Toll Plaza
If you cruise from Florida often, or you’re planning a road trip or an extended stay there, it’s also a good idea to apply for a Florida State Toll Exemption Permit. Administered by the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (www.dot.state.fl.us/ctd), this money-saving pass not only allows holders free parking at Florida cruise ship piers and airports, but it also exempts them from all road, bridge and ferry tolls.
There’s no charge for the permit, but in order to be eligible you must:
- Have a valid driver’s license from any state.
- Drive an adapted vehicle.
- Have a permanent upper limb mobility or dexterity impairment, which substantially impairs your ability to deposit coins in toll baskets.
The short application form is available on the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged website, or by calling them at (850) 410-5700 or (800) 983-2435. You physician must also sign the application to certify your level of disability. Alternatively, veterans may provide a statement from the Veterans Administration, in lieu of a physician’s certification. It takes about four to six weeks to process an application, so plan ahead.
Once you receive your orange toll exemption permit, just place it on the lower driver’s side corner of your vehicle windshield. To use the permit, just go through a manned lane, and the toll collector will record your permit number. If no manned lanes are available, you are permitted to go through an unmanned lane; however be aware that this may result in a traffic stop. If that happens, just have the officer call (800) 983-2435 to verify your permit. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of your approved application and your certification letter in your glove compartment.
Simplify Matters With a Sun Pass
Your toll exemption permit also allows you to purchase a Non-Revenue Sun Pass. This small transponder is mounted inside the vehicle and it identifies users as toll exemption permit holders. Sun Pass holders can use the specially marked Sun Pass Lanes, where automated readers record the transponder information.
Although the transponder is priced at $26.50, it’s a real time saver, as it eliminates the need to use a manned lane. Still, if you only plan to do limited driving while in Florida, it might not be worth the investment.
All Non-Revenue Sun Pass requests are processed through the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged. Just fill out the application form and pay the fee. It’s a pretty simple process; and in the end a Non-Revenue Sun Pass could save you time as well as money. And in today’s economy, both are valuable commodities.