Meter Madness: "Screw It, Mayor Daley"

Are drivers rebelling against parking meter hike?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Tasha Heubner is mad.

    "I said screw it, Mayor Daley."

    What got her angry is the same thing sparking outrage in motorists across Chicago: the price to park.

    Parking Meter Madness

    [CHI] Parking Meter Madness
    Chicagoans seem to be freaking out over the increase in parking meter rates.

    "It's just another example of nickel and diming us to death, and it's getting tiresome," Heubner said.

    Aron Gorenstein, after depositing eight quarters to park along South Jefferson Street, said he felt violated.

    Cherron Pillow changed her mind about parking on the street after counting her change.

    Call it quarter-fatigue. Call it a rebellion. But ever since parking rates zoomed up last month, motorists have been zooming past open spaces.

    Look around town and in many places where you once could never find a spot to park, spaces are abundant.

    Why?

    One reason may rest in the fact that in the last month the price to park in some cases has quadrupled.

    "It's crazy," said a city employee collecting what little money could be had from parking meters -- spray painted in black -- near Irving Park Road and Spaulding Avenue early Thursday.

    In December, the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Daley's plan to privatize the operation of the city’s 36,000 parking meters by a vote of 40 to 5.

    The city got an approximately $1.2 billion to plug a big budget hole.

    The company, Morgan Stanley and LAZ Parking, got a 75-year lease. And the right to write tickets.

    And drivers like Tasha Heubner, who parked along Chicago Avenue for hospital visits for breast cancer treatment, say they got the shaft.

    "You realize how much you are paying for parking," she said, "It's easier not even bothering coming downtown unless you have to."

    Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd), who voted in favor of the ordinance, believes the new rate is needed, but so is another look.

    "I'm planning on introducing ordinances that will adjust rates and take out meters where they are not effective," Fioretti said, adding that 25 percent of all meters are in the two downtown wards, which includes his.

    On the west side of his ward is a seemingly wasteland of meters where virtually no one parks.

    Meter after meter, block after empty block, unused meters stick out like a sore thumb along 14th street and Ashland Avenue.

    Fioretti said the new meters were put in because as many as 2000 drivers a day parked there for free. And because homeless people vandalized those cars.

    "When those meters all went in 20 all those cars disappeared," he said. "We had break-ins in cars. All that's gone."

    The trouble is, rows and rows of meters, at a city estimated $400 a pop, are going unused.

    "It's a waste of money and I can't quite comprehend it," said blogger The Parking Ticket Geek, who has for the last year written extensively about parking issues in Chicago.

    "People are angry," said The Geek, who asked that his full name not be used.

    "I don't see any revenue here at all to collect on," said The Geek as he surveyed the area. "There's nobody parking. It's zero."

    Some of the meters weren't even equipped to take quarters.

    According to The Geek, there are increasing reports of parking meter vandalism, like what we found in the 300 block of North Jefferson: meters spray painted in order to void them.

    The Geek says he is opposed to any destruction but warns frustration is building.

    So is it a rebellion? A protest? A boycott?

    "I think it's all those," he said.

    The city declined to comment. But Alderman Fioretti said he does have one idea: a moratorium on tickets until April 15 because of confusion with the new meters on how much motorists must pay who feel they have already been taken for a ride.