Opinion: Chicago Parking Meters LLC Is Shameless

It would cost every man, woman and child in Chicago $423 to buy back the parking meters from the Wall Street bankers and the Arab emirs who are getting rich off our streets. I say we start taking up a collection. 

Last week, I was accused of misusing the word “shameless” to refer to an ’80s pop star. But I don’t think anyone will dispute that’s the right word to characterize the latest actions of Chicago Parking Meters LLC. Not satisfied with the $70 million a year it’s been earning off the meters, the company is now demanding to be reimbursed for profits lost to street festivals and handicapped drivers. 

And Mayor Rahm Emanuel, showing more backbone than his predecessor or 80 percent of the City Council, is saying no. 

According to the Sun-Times:

The $14 million bill stems from parking revenues the meter company says it lost when the city took meters out of service last year because of street repairs, festivals and other city-sponsored activities, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. 

This is the second time in a year that the company has hit City Hall with a claim for a big parking tab. The Emanuel administration already is in arbitration over a $13.5 million claim over free parking that Chicago Parking Meters says it provided to people displaying disabled-parking placards or license plates in 2010. 

That makes the total disputed amount more than $27 million. 

Unfortunately, Emanuel’s long-term solution to Chicago Parking’s demands is not to take the company to court, but to stiff handicapped drivers. Emanuel and Secretary of State Jesse White both support a bill to strip free parking from all but the most severely handicapped drivers. HB5624, sponsored by Rep. Karen May, would only allow free parking to drivers unable to:

(1) manage, manipulate, or insert coins, or obtain tickets or tokens in parking meters or ticket machines in parking lots or parking structures, due to the lack of fine motor control of both hands; 

(2) reach above his or her head to a height of 42 inches from the ground, due to a lack of finger, hand, or upper extremity strength or mobility; 

(3) approach a parking meter due to his or her use of a wheelchair or other device; and 

(4) walk more than 20 feet due to an orthopedic, neurological, cardiovascular, or lung condition in which the degree of debilitation is so severe that it almost completely impedes the ability to walk. 

The bill passed the House, 108-0, and is now before the Senate. It’s meant to solve the problem of drivers using handicapped placards to avoid parking fees that now exceed $6 an hour in the Loop, and will probably go higher. Of course, that problem would not exist if Chicago Parking Meters weren’t so greedy. So they’ve essentially created a new revenue stream for themselves: the handicapped, who, because of their handicaps, are usually less able to afford parking than the able-bodied. 


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