Archive for the ‘Illinois’ Category

It’s been an odd week in parking news, mainly because of two six figure stories on opposite ends of the spectrum. In Chicago, we finally have a resolution to the car that accrued more than $105,000 in tickets at O’Hare airport; and in Buffalo, NY we have a meter technician that was caught stealing $210,000 in quarters over 8 years. First, let’s take a look at the Windy City.

As some may recall, a car owned by Jennifer Fitzgerald of Chicago was left in the O’Hare International Airport employee parking lot for more than three years, accruing 678 tickets totaling $106,000 during that time. She filed a suit with the city, showing evidence that while the car had been in her name, it had belonged to a now-ex boyfriend for all intents and purposes. He worked at O’Hare, and was the one who abandoned the vehicle in the lot, refusing to have the car signed over to his name. With the car in an employee lot where she was not allowed to go, Fitzgerald was unable to retrieve it. On top of that, after a vehicle has been deemed abandoned for two to three months, by law the city is supposed to tow and impound the vehicle, but parking enforcement workers at O’Hare never did this. Instead, they continued to ticket the vehicle for years, not just fining it for parking violations but also for having illegally tinted windows or out of date city tags and registration. While parking enforcement denies having quotas, it’s fairly obvious that employees were ticketing this car again and again instead of towing it to boost some kind of metric that they’re evaluated on.

Yesterday, Ms. Fitzgerald’s suit was dismissed and a settlement agreed upon with the city. She would pay a total of $4500 to clear the tickets and fines, with a $1600 down payment to be made by her former boyfriend and the rest to be paid off by Fitzgerald in monthly installments of $78 for the next three years. While being less than 5% of what was owed, this seems like a fairly equitable settlement; the majority of those fines shouldn’t have been there as the vehicle should have been towed, the ex boyfriend is taking care of a big chunk of it, with the rest on Fitzgerald (who missed an earlier court date related to the tickets, thereby increasing them all exponentially). Still, the fact that it took more than three years to even notice this is alarming, and just goes to show just how lax city oversight of parking enforcement and operations usually is.

That said, Chicago is still ahead of the game compared to Buffalo, NY where city meter mechanic James Bagarozzo was sentenced to two and half years in prison for stealing more than $210,000 in quarters from city meters between 2003 and 2011. Using his position and technical skills, he rigged about 70 parking meters so that he could collect from them undetected. He would then go to the bank on his lunch hour and roll and exchange the coins. I once had to roll nearly $50 in quarters and other change, and that took hours; Jimmy Bagz (that’s what I’m calling him now) rolled more than 10,000 pounds, that’s five tons, of quarters! Jimmy Bagz had one co-conspirator, a co-worker named Lawrence Charles who helped with the scheme for five years and stole $15,000 in that period.

So how did they get caught? Well that’s the beauty of this story, one that just drives home the point I make again and again in so many of these stories: a little attention and oversight by the city’s parking management will save money and keep most parking abuses from happening. You see, Buffalo parking commissioner Kevin Helfer noticed that the digital meters in the city were making significantly more money than the old mechanical meters, which is odd. He had an investigation launched and using video surveillance they were able to discover that Jimmy Bagz had been stealing fro the old meters daily. When the FBI was called in and they confronted Jimmy Bagz, he admitted to the thefts (which are considered a federal crime). Since this debacle, the city has switched entirely to digital meters that take both credit cards and coins and are next to impossible to rob. Since making these changes and ending Jimmy Bagz’ scheme, city parking meter revenue is up $500,000 annually. With that kind of improvement, you have to wonder if there might have been others skimming off the top as well. Regardless, the city and it’s citizens are all benefitting from this wannabe Stan Smith finally being caught, and all thanks to a parking official that actually took their job seriously and paid attention to what was going on.

As of yet, there is no word on whether Kevin Helfer looks like Forrest Whitaker, but I find the story far more amusing to imagine he does.

In what is sadly becoming routine for Chicagoans, the Windy City was hit with yet another $60+ million parking bill at the end of February. As some may recall, a few weeks ago I talked about the mounting parking issues in Chicago including a recent dispute with Chicago Parking Meters LLC over an alleged overbilling of $22 million to the city. Well, on February 25 the city was told to pay $57.8 million to Chicago Loop Parking LLC as part of an arbitration agreement due to a breach of the city’s contract with the LLC committed under the Richard M. Daley administration.

As bad as that sounds, the silver lining is that the $57.8 million that was decided upon in arbitration is a far cry less than the $200 million that Chicago Loop Parking LLC originally demanded. The issue goes back to the deal that Mayor Daley signed with Chicago Loop Parking in 2006 giving them a 99 year lease on all parking garages at Millennium Park, Grant Park North, Grant Park South, and East Monroe Street for $563 million. As part of the deal, the city agreed to not allow new public parking garages to be opened in a designated area surrounding the CLP properties. Yet within months of inking the deal, the Daley administration approved the Aqua tower, which included a 1,288 space parking garage, in the off-limits area and subsequently granted a license to operate the parking garage to Standard Parking.

Not surprisingly, Chicago Loop Parking initiated private arbitration (as outlined in their contract with the city) which took place last October. Originally, the LLC had demanded $200 million, breaking it down as a combination of lost revenue, increased operating expenses caused by the Aqua facility and interest. Arbitration brought that amount down to $57.8 million ($50 million for lost revenue plus $7.8 million in interest), but was also supposed to be “final and binding”. Despite that, the city is trying to appeal the decision.

While already reducing the tab by almost 75%, the settlement is still a big hit to the city budget. The city is already in a dispute with Chicago Parking Meters LLC over a $25 million bill, and recently lost a job discrimination lawsuit dating back to 1995 that cost them nearly $80 million. And how much did the city have budgeted for settling lawsuits this year? $27.3 million, barely 15% of the City of Chicago’s legal tab so far this year. Hopefully for Chicagoans, the Daley administration hasn’t left any more fiscal time bombs to further cripple the city’s budget.

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.

Car Hit With Over $100,000 In Chicago Parking Tickets | theexpiredmeter.com.

 

Holy crap! Amazing story by Mike Brockway, who is the expert on all things parking in the Chicago area. Check out his blog at http://theexpiredmeter.com/ for more interesting Windy City stories and to see why “local government” is synonymous with corruption there.