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Das Boots

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Das Boots
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The city is booting more cars than ever, thanks to a new license-plate recognition system that identifies scofflaws as Department of Revenue trucks roll down the streets.

“There were 44,581 boots applied from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, up by 7 percent or 3,112 from 41,469 boots applied during the first eight months of last year,” the Sun-Times reported today.

The boot system is really a regressive tax on motorists, a way to extract money from the motorists who can least afford it: renters living in congested neighborhoods, who have to troll for parking, and often end up leaving their cars in illegal spots rather than walk several blocks home through dark streets.

If you have a garage, or rent a parking spot, you have less to fear from the boot crews. First of all, you’re not going to get as many tickets. Second of all, the Department of Revenue can’t boot a vehicle on private property. If one of their new license plate cameras spots a violator in a driveway, it’s still hands-off.

The downtown 42nd Ward collects the most tickets in the city, but not too many boots, because downtown residents park in private garages. Last year, the most-booted wards were the 23rd and the 41st, because the boot crews work the parking lots at Midway and O’Hare. But after that, the next eight most-booted wards were in black or Latino neighborhoods: the 2nd Ward (1,249); the 27th (1,247); 5th (1,241); 32nd (1,239); 6th (1,207); 37th (1,079); the 20th and 28th (1,075 each) and the 4th (1,050).

I once wrote a story about the city’s boot program for the Chicago Reader. For two days, I rode along with a booter, watching him secure the yellow clamp to the tires of parking scofflaws. We visited South Shore, Lincoln Bend and Rogers Park. Booters have quotas to meet. As one told me, “for a booter to get 20 boots a day, he’s gotta go where the people are. We mine the veins. Mount Greenwood has tons of areas to park your car. If he’s trying to get 20 a day, why would he go out there?”

Bobby Rush made the boot a populist issue in his 1999 mayoral campaign, claiming that “parking fines are disproportionately absorbed by the working poor, because these are individuals who live in areas where they don't have access to garages or driveways.”

The program has grown even more draconian since then. Now, the city will boot your car for three tickets, or two tickets older than a year. As always, if you can’t pay within 30 days, the city can auction off your car and keep the money, without even applying it to your tickets.

On the plus side, the new booting campaign could encourage Chicagoans to sell their cars and stop driving. They’ll no longer get parking tickets, they can avoid gasoline taxes, and they won’t have to pay $75 for a city sticker.

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