Grab Your Roll of Quarters

Chicago to join the world's most expensive parking towns

The Chicago City Council passed a plan on Thursday that will cost drivers who park in metered spots significantly more than they're paying now.

Aldermen voted 40 to 5 to approve the long term lease of the city's 36,000 metered parking spaces.
Mayor Daley’s $1.15 billion plan to privatize Chicago’s parking meters -- and sharply increase the rates motorists pay to feed them -- got lightning-fast approval from a City Council committee Wednesday despite a barrage of aldermanic criticism.

During a 3½-hour hearing, Finance Committee members complained about everything from rates that sock it to motorists and a requirement that meters be fed seven days a week, including holidays, to allowing the private operator to write parking tickets as frequently as every two hours at two-hour meters.

“This ordinance is fundamentally changing not just the price, but the enforcement. That’s really scary,” said Alderman Tom Tunney (44th).

“I could see people having to carry big bags of quarters – big bags of money -- to deal with” these rate hikes, said Ald. Danny Solis (25th).

Chicago would have some of the highest big-city parking meter rates in the nation. Most neighborhood rates would quadruple to $1 an hour next year and reach $2 by 2013. Loop meters would rise 50 cents to $3.50 next month and top out at $6.50 in 2013.

Los Angeles is rolling out new rates that top out at $4. In San Francisco, a proposed "congestion pricing" trial program would increase rates to $6 an hour in heavy traffic times and $18 during sports events and street festivals.

“When you start talking about $2 (an hour for neighborhood meters), we’re going to be hurting businesses and residents who won’t go shopping,” said Ald. Ray Suarez (31st).

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) likened the 75-year deal to a Cialis commercial where the side effects sometimes seem worse than the cure.

Under questioning from Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th), top mayoral aides acknowledged that the partnership that includes Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners and LAZ Parking recently formed a limited liability corporation in Delaware, but never bothered to register in Illinois.

Noting the tangled ownership web, Burke said, “Does the Law Department want us to do business with entities that, No. 1, we can’t figure out, and No. 2, don’t bother to register in Illinois?”

But in the end, aldermen could not resist the $1.15 billion to stave off another round of layoffs and tax hikes in 2009, balance city budgets through 2012, fund human service programs when a midterm fund created with Chicago Skyway revenue dries up, and set up a “rainy day fund” until the moribund economy makes a comeback.

Copyright CHIST - SunTimes
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