Free Parking? Not for Taxpayers

An NBC Chicago & Better Government Association Report

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has maintained he's a steward of taxpayers' dollars, and on Tuesday sent a letter to all city department heads and agencies requesting an immediate review of all employee parking expenses paid for by the city.

His action comes as NBC Chicago and the Better Government Association, in a joint report, reveal  that taxpayers are spending about $1 million each year for government employees to park in downtown garages in Chicago’s Loop.

The investigation also uncovered scores of public employees who earn six-figure incomes, yet who still have their daily parking paid for with public money.

Anyone who has driven downtown to walk along Navy Pier or to see "The Bean" in Millennium Park knows how much parking can cost. A typical Loop garage or surface lot can sock a wallet for $20, $30 or more. And for anyone who regularly drives in to the city for work, even a monthly parking rate can stretch into the thousands of dollars over the course of a year.

But for hundreds of City of Chicago, Cook County, and State of Illinois government employees, Chicago parking fees aren’t much of a worry, because they qualify for reduced or free parking, all courtesy of taxpayers.

While government officials say in most cases the spaces they rent are needed for employees who travel for their jobs and need to come and go with ease, other times the spots appear to be nothing more than perks.

One of those perks belongs to Cheryl Hyman, Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. She is paid $250,000 a year, but still charges her Loop parking space to taxpayers. For her, that’s like an annual $2,600.00 guaranteed bonus.

Responding to an inquiry, Hyman issued a written statement on the paid parking for City Colleges employees, saying: "Our seven colleges and … satellite sites are spread out. …. Some are not easily accessible … without a car."

But NBC Chicago and the BGA have confirmed that Hyman uses a driver and a city car. Taxpayers pay for that, as well.

Hyman is not the only government employee who gets paid parking on top of a six-figure income. In fact, NBC Chicago and the BGA counted more than 75 government workers who each make more than $100,000 a year and whose parking spots are still paid for with tax dollars.

Peter Skosey, Vice President of the Metropolitan Planning Council, which addresses local public policy issues, said both public agencies and private businesses must change their office cultures and rethink their parking arrangements for employees in an effort to save money and to cut down on the number of cars people drive in to the city.

The MPC is currently working with the Chicago Public Schools to think up alternatives to reduce the number of central office employees who drive each day in to the city and who sometimes park at taxpayers’ expense.

"[CPS] is looking at tools like car-sharing and providing bus passes that employees can share," said Skosey.

Emanuel’s office points out that since he has taken office the city has already reduced taxpayer-funded employee parking by 43 percent, and other city agencies have made reductions as well. In fact, as of next month, the Chicago Park District said it plans to cut out all employee parking paid for by taxpayers.

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