Parking woes in the Windy City

Posted: January 24, 2013 in Chicago, Government, Illinois, Local, Parking
Tags: , , , , , ,

Chicago is fast becoming the worst parking situation in the country. If you’ve ever had to drive anywhere in Chicago, you know it’s a nightmare of traffic congestion, constant construction and angry drivers hanging out their windows and shouting profanities at each other; now it seems the parking there is becoming just as bad. An array of factors have occurred over the past few years to make this happen, and like everything in Chicago there’s more than enough corruption and  underhandedness to go around.

Since we’re talking about corruption, there’s no better place to start than Mayor Daley’s office. Back in 2008, Mayor Richard Daley put pressure on the Chicago city council to privatize the parking authority in Chicago. The deal was forced through and voted into action in just two days, and it became rapidly apparent that between all the backroom deals and arm twisting that it took to pass it, nobody had a chance to read over the deal. It was a sweetheart deal for the company, Chicago Parking Meters LLC., giving them a 75 year lease of all the city’s parking meters and entitling them to all the profits during that time in exchange for $1.15 billion paid to the city upfront for the lease. It wasn’t too much later that the city’s inspector general reported that the city had undervalued the contract by at least $1 billion, and that wasn’t even taking into account the steep rate hikes that CPM has implemented since taking over. In addition, the contract stipulated that the city compensate CPM each year for all potential meter profits lost from construction, street repairs, festivals, and handicap placards. What that means is that anytime any parking meter wasn’t in service or someone got to park for free, the city was getting billed for every hour of it.

On top of that, CPM has raised parking rates in Chicago every year since their contract started. Chicago now holds the distinction of possessing the highest parking rates in the country thanks to all the hikes. What that means is that in addition to how much they’ve been taking out of the pockets of Chicagoans, they’ve also been billing the city more and more for “missed parking” thanks to the rate increases. After already making hundreds of millions off of the city with this deal, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had an auditing system created to verify CPM’s lost parking hours claims. Lo and behold, the audit revealed that CPM had over-charged the city by $22 million for 2012, saying the city owed $25 million for lost parking instead of the $3 million indicated by the audit. The city is still fighting with CPM over the money, and Mayor Emanuel has frequently referred to the parking deal with CPM as the worst in the city’s history.

As if trying to add insult to injury, there have been more and more stories surfacing of Chicagoans being ticketed while paying for their parking, either while they were walking to a pay station or while they were struggling with a defective meter. In most cases, no amount of attempts to contest the tickets has gotten them reversed, despite assurances from  CPM and the city that parking enforcers are instructed to check to see if the vehicle owner is on their way to or paying the meter. On the opposite end of parking enforcement cruelty, their seems to be a rogue officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who is fining legitimately disabled visitors and confiscating their drivers license and disabled parking placard, forcing these poor folks to suffer for weeks until they can get the violation overturned in court and their licenses and placards returned to them. So far, 17 out of 19 handicap parking violations this officer has handed out have been overturned by the courts, and yet this person is apparently still on the job.

There is one small ray of sunshine in all of this; despite being scheduled to go into effect January 1st, the latest $.75 rate hike has yet to happen. No clear explanation has been given by LAZ Parking (the parking management company hired by CPM to run their meter operation), though they have stated that the price hike will be in effect before March 1st. So enjoy the “luxury” of only paying $5.75 an hour for parking while you can Chicagoans, and let’s all hope Mayor Emanuel can get some concessions from CPM or renegotiate their contract sometime in the near future.

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