Poor communication regarding handicapped parking at the new Marine Midland Arena led to headaches for some disabled drivers at last weekend's Buffalo Sabres season opener.
Robert W. Baumet, 63, of Amherst, said he and 25 other motorists with handicapped tags received $25 tickets after parking along a stretch of Hanover Street behind Memorial Auditorium that had been set aside for them since 1985.
The problem does not appear to be with the private operators, all of whom meet or exceed state and federal requirements for handicapped parking. Between arena parking facilities and nearby Allright Parking lots, there are more than 115 spaces for the handicapped.
Baumet would have used one of the handicapped spaces in the garage if police had not told him that the ramp was full 90 minutes before game time Saturday. He then went to his old spot on Hanover because there was no sign saying the previous policy had ended.
"There were 20 to 30 of us who got tickets, and without notice," he said. "They should have put a paper sign up on a lamp post to tell us. All they did was take the portable (handicapped parking) signs out."
Leonard G. Sciolino, director of the city Parking Violations Bureau, said his office ended the practice of allowing handicapped parking on Hanover after the Aud closed. He explained that the policy originally was intended to reduce congestion in front of the Aud.
"We eliminated them because they were temporary," he said. "The Sabres had allocated numerous spots in their ramp."
Lawrence W. Quinn, president of Marine Midland Arena, said that there are 22 handicapped spaces available in the ground floor of the garage and 20 spaces on upper floors and that all can accommodate vans. At least 20 more are available on the surface lot.
That is fine, Baumet said, but city police told him that the garage was full when he tried to use it for the game.
"I was there at 6 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. event and couldn't find a parking spot," he said. "I have phlebitis in my legs, and I was with a guy who needs to use two canes to walk. Both of us parked on Hanover and got tickets."
The arena parking garage is booked on Sabres game days by season ticket-holders sitting in the club and suite sections. The handicapped spots, however, are not reserved and are available to anyone with proper identification, Quinn said.
"Buffalo police have been told people with handicapped plates can get through," he said. "I'll remind them again."
Baumet said that he is resigned to paying his ticket, but hopes that his problem gets some attention.
"The only real answer is to pay the fine," he said, "but they need to get the word out."