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How to End Privatization

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How to End Privatization

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about privatization, it’s that it costs the public money. Remember how much it cost to use the Skyway before Mayor Daley sold it -- excuse me, leased it for 99 years -- to the Spanish and Australians? It cost $2. It now costs $3.50, and the toll is expected to increase to $5 by 2017.

Remember how much it cost to park in a backwater neighborhood like Portage Park before Mayor Daley sold the parking meters to Wall Street? It cost 25 cents an hour. Now, it costs $1.50.

As voters, we can’t do anything to undo those deals. But as consumers, we can make them less profitable for the private companies, and, perhaps, make Chicago an unappealing market for future privatization. How? We can stop using the Skyway and the meters. I’m going to share my tips for avoiding both.

First, the Skyway. When you’re heading to Indiana, take Lake Shore Drive, then continue south on U.S. 41, until it turns into Ewing Avenue. Take a left at 106th Street. A few blocks later, you can jump on the Indiana Tollway. Alternatively, you can get off the Dan Ryan at 95th Street and drive west to Ewing. It’s a nice chance to see South Chicago and the East Side, two neighborhoods that disappeared from most Chicagoans’ consciousnesses after the Skyway was built overhead.

If you really want to be cheap, you can cross Indiana for free on U.S. 12, thus avoiding another $2 in tolls.

Now, the parking meters. The best thing to do, of course, is to sell your car. The city and the state have been encouraging us to do that, with higher sticker fees, higher parking rates, and stricter enforcement of the boot program. But some of us need cars.

If you have a car, park someplace free, or shop in the suburbs. I used to enjoy Hyde Park, Wicker Park and Andersonville. I no longer drive to those neighborhoods. The anxiety of an expired meter ruins the pleasure of shopping there. The other day, I wanted to buy a hat, so I drove to Hats Plus, at Six Corners, and parked in the huge lot at the Jewel. Then I needed to visit J. Crew. There’s a J. Crew at North and Clybourn, but all the parking is metered, so I drove out to Old Orchard, in Skokie. The sales tax is lower there, anyway. Finally, I needed to visit my barber on Clark Street in Rogers Park. The street out front is metered, so I parked at a nearby Dominick’s. Supermarket lots are guaranteed free parking, because it’s impossible to keep track of who actually goes into the store. I once left my car there overnight, by accident.

There’s no way we can make the meter deal unprofitable for LAZ, since the $1.1 billion they paid is about a tenth of what they’re expected to collect over the life of the lease. But we can make it less profitable. And by shopping in the suburbs, and putting more wear and tear on 106th Street, we can show the city that privatization sometimes costs more money than it brings in.

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