Motorists who park at a private lot and run across the street to buy a cup of coffee won’t have to worry just yet about returning to find their vehicles booted — in the 16 Chicago wards that don’t allow private booting, anyway.
Not yet, at least.
A controversial ordinance to expand that motorist nightmare — by authorizing private booters roaming free in 34 Chicago wards to take their operations citywide — hit a roadblock at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
License Committee Chair Emma Mitts (37th) and retiring Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chief sponsor of the ordinance, wanted to head off a possible defeat. The delay provides more time for former colleague Joe Moore to line up votes.
“We still need to talk with some aldermen and make sure they understand the issues,” said Moore, the former 49th Ward alderperson now lobbying for Innovative Parking Solutions, the only private booting company operating in Chicago.
“We’re confident we will have the votes. [But], I’ve been here long enough to know” you can’t take anything for granted, Moore said.
Currently, booting on private lots is allowed only if the local alderperson opts in — and 16 alderpersons have refused.
Moore persuaded Reboyras to introduce an ordinance allowing merchants across the city to contract with private companies to patrol lots and prevent motorists from parking in spaces reserved for their customers.
As much as motorists hate booting, Moore argued again Wednesday that towing is an even bigger nightmare.
“Booting is a much more humane way of addressing illegal parking — rather than having a car towed away to a distant auto pound, where the owner initially doesn’t even know what happened to their car. They just come back. It’s gone. Was it stolen? They don’t know. They have to figure out first whether it was stolen, and if it got towed, where did it get towed?” Moore told the Sun-Times.
“Then, they have to figure out a way to get out to the auto pound. Can they afford an Uber? Do they have a friend who can take them? Can they take public transportation? It is infinitely more inconvenient and more of a hardship to have illegal parking addressed through towing than it would by simply affixing a boot to a vehicle,” Moore argued.
Moore acknowledged that carte blanche to go citywide means more business for his client and paves the way for a lot more booting on private lots. But, he argued, Innovative Parking should be “on equal footing with the towing companies.”
“They provide a much more humane method for fining people who are taking up parking spaces in private parking lots that should be set aside for paying customers. It is also a much more environmentally sound method of addressing illegal parking,” the former alderperson said.
To remove a private boot, Innovative Parking charges motorists $170 per vehicle, regardless of make, model or size.
Towing costs $216, plus a daily storage fee of $45 for passenger vehicles. Those fees range from $520 to $700 for towing and $140 a day for storage for SUVs, and $500 for towing and $140 a day for storage for motorcycles, Moore said.
Far North Side Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) has argued the ordinance championed by her predecessor is “just about a private company that wants to have a free-for-all on the city and expand their market.”
The delay of expanded booting shouldn’t be surprising. In Chicago, booting has been mired in controversy for decades.
During last week’s committee vote, there were six dissenting votes: Greg Mitchell (7th); Stephanie Coleman (16th); David Moore (17th); Anthony Napolitano (41st); Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Matt Martin (47th).
Pointing to the “volatile times that we’re in,” Napolitano predicted a citywide ordinance would trigger fights galore as motorists find their vehicles disabled by a boot.
“Whether you’re in the right or in the wrong of that booting, that situation becomes extremely volatile — especially when an independent company is the one doing it to your vehicle,” said Napolitano, who has served the city as both a police officer and a firefighter.
“If we’re giving someone an opportunity to boot a lot citywide, we’re creating more of volatile atmosphere than we already have. We don’t have enough police. We don’t have enough cars on patrol to get to crime that’s occurring, such as our burglaries, our strong-armed robberies, our shootings and our theft of catalytic converters. Now, our officers are gonna be dispatched to an argument in a parking lot over a boot. … I will guarantee you — if the plea [falls] on deaf ears — it’s going to happen. I’ve seen it happen.”
West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a retired police officer now chairing the Committee on Public Safety, made the opposite argument. He claimed private booting on a lot in his ward has been a salvation for his crime-weary residents.
The lot had been a magnet for drug-dealing and prostitution, but “since private booting came in, I’ve had zero police calls to that lot,” Taliaferro said.
In 1999, the City Council moved to prohibit private booting amid reports of price-gouging and fisticuffs.
Eighteen months later, aldermen put the weapon back in the arsenal of neighborhood retailers with the consent of the local alderman, provided booting companies obtain city licenses and abide by strict regulations governing everything from fees, insurance and signs to staffing and credit card payments.
In 2004, private booters were further required to wait 15 minutes after a vehicle is parked before booting and to post signs informing motorists who return to their vehicles before the boot is fully applied of their right to demand removal at no charge.
Three years ago, aldermen ignored price-gouging concerns and empowered private booters to raise boot removal fees by $30 in exchange for stiffer regulations.
In exchange for the 21.4% fee hike, the city’s then-four private booters were required to: pay a $1,000 licensing fee every two years; remove the boot at no charge if the owner returns to the lot before the boot is fully applied; register each location where the company is operating and pay a $100 fee for each site and put their employees in uniforms and train them on boot installation and removal.