One of the biggest con-games run by the City of Chicago is parking. While I admit to being a justifiable recipient of parking tickets in the past, most of those violations were an absurdity. For example, my car was recently towed while parked at a meter. Although I had plugged the meter through the ending time, 6PM, a city worker put up a “Tow Zone” sign probably about 30 minutes after I parked with a beginning time of 5AM the next morning. Having fought through snow-ridden traffic on my nightly commute, my spidey-senses were not fully functioning thus did not have the intuition to move my car. I returned to the space at 6AM the next morning only to find out that my car was towed. I was ordered to pay $160 to get my car out of the pound and another $65 in parking fines.
The good thing was that I fought both the towing and parking charge and won both; however, this happy ending did nothing to dispel the frustration of dealing with parking ticket logistics. If the city worker had put up the sign earlier (according to state statute, 24 hours in advance), I wouldn’t have been towed. Instead, I had to journey to the bowels of lower Wacker drive and spend over an hour trying to bail out and find my car. Next I had to take a 1/2 day off of work to attend a hearing.
My story is not at all unusual and at least I have a silver lining of having won my case. I have a buddy that received a parking ticket for parking in front of a hydrant. The problem was that he didn’t park it there, the person who stole his car parked in front of the hydrant. Instead of taking a day off and attending a hearing, my buddy protested the ticket via the mail offering a copy of the police report. The judgement can back liable and he was forced to pay the ticket.
Recently, the City of Chicago decided to lease out its parking meters to a private company. As with everything else the city leases (Skyway, Midway Airport), the rates involved skyrocket. Pat Dowell is the 3rd Ward Alderman who voted for the privatization program. I decided to write her a letter…
Dear Alderman Dowell,
I am a South Loop resident and I am concerned over many of the changes to parking meters in the area.
Back in December, the City Council voted to privatize city parking meters for $1.2 billion. After further investigation, I found out that you voted for this measure. I wanted to understand your perspective regarding this vote.
This past Sunday, my wife and I drove to Wabash and Congress to attend a church service. The web site for the church indicated ample metered parking. I grabbed about six or seven quarters and headed down to our car. I found a meter, but the six to seven quarters only lasted 30 minutes. I was shocked to see a quarter only lasting no more than five minutes. I attempted to find an establishment that would offer change but none were open on Sunday. Since we were not interested in paying over $10 to park at a surface lot for one hour of church, we decided to head to breakfast.
According to the Sun Times, “Parking downtown will increase from $3 an hour to $6.50 the next five years under a lease deal.” How does the city expect people to utilize these meters? Plugging a meter for $3.00 per hour requires 12 quarters. Plugging a meter for $6.50 per hour requires 26 quarters. Given that an entire role of quarters only has 40 quarters, or $10, this would mean either (a) a carload full of quarters or (b) frequent trips to the bank. Either case puts the burden on taxpayers, not just in paying the meters but also obtaining and maintaining quarters.
My wife and I both drive to our jobs, thus our family has two cars. Our building requires us to purchase our parking spots (of which we also pay property taxes) thus we are only able to afford to purchase one parking space. When we first moved in, there were no parking meters. A year later, parking meters arrived for Monday through Friday rates (beginning at 6AM) for fifteen minutes per quarter. A year later, some of those meters required Saturday rates at fifteen minutes per quarter. If these meters are privatized increasing the rate to 5 minutes per quarter seven days per week, we will either need to purchase a parking space or move.
I understand this agreement is unprecedented and appears mostly driven to fill a short term budget deficit; however, such a proposal is another example of the city further alienating taxpayers. My wife and I love the South Loop, but given what we already pay in property taxes and sales taxes (10.25% highest sales tax in the country), we are hard pressed to justify living here.
As a follow up to my letter, Alderman Dowell responded the next day with the following email:
Thank you for your email. As part of an effort to raise much needed revenue for the city, there will be city-wide increases made to parking meter rates and hours of operation…Knowing that this change will have an impact on our community, I introduced an ordinance to City Council in January that will exempt all parking meters in the 3rd ward only from Sunday hours and will ensure that all new meters in the ward (placed in 2008 only) will be exempt from the new rates for at least two years. The ordinance is scheduled to be heard before the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety on March 11 at 9:30am. I hope you will attend as I believe the Committee members would benefit from hearing your story. To be clear, the meters (in your neighborhood) will not have the same rates as you find in the downtown area. Those meters will be $.25 for every 15 minutes and operate from 8am to 9pm.