Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Parking Meter Rebellion??

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March 21, 2009

BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

I spent last week staring at parking meters. And wondering if I was witnessing the beginnings of a boycott.

Boycott is probably too strong a term. Quiet rebellion may be more like it.
» Click to enlarge image
Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin

Whatever the word, on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. there were at least 10 open parking meters down one short block of Clark Street next to Lincoln Park.

At noon in Wicker Park, where Milwaukee Avenue is usually packed with parked cars, there were open meters waiting.

And at 2 p.m. around the Sheraton Hotel on Columbus Drive, a place where normally you can't crowbar your car into a space, there were at least three or four parking spaces. What's up with this?

What's up is that a month ago, when the City of Chicago privatized parking meters, rates were immediately jacked way up, and you now have to feed 28 quarters into the meter to park a car in the Loop for two hours. In exchange for a 75-year lease, the city got $1.2 billion to help plug its budget holes.

But by handing over municipal parking meters to a private company, the city has given its citizens a colossal case of sticker shock. The cost of most meters will quadruple by 2013.

The deal Mayor Daley rammed through a pliable City Council in 48 hours allows the company to keep all revenue from the meters while the city keeps all cash from parking tickets when meters expire.

But wait. Don't parking tickets reap six, seven, even eight times more than what meters bring in? If people start refusing to park at meters, how can they get ticketed? And how can the city hope to rake in that revenue?

So many questions.

My first call was to Carissa Ramirez, spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley Communications and Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the privatizing firm.

Were they, I asked, sensing a citizen rebellion? How are they doing in revenue? What about tickets?

Ramirez replied by e-mail that it's too soon to know but I would probably have to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the city "as I believe these are special requests."

Special requests?

Then I called LAZ Parking, the subcontractor hired to collect all those quarters and give out tickets.

LAZ Parking didn't even bother to get back to me.

Privatization, apparently, does not mean transparency.

Which takes me back to the rebellion.

Irate citizens have been venting on a Web site called theexpired meter.com. It's written and reported by a 45-year-old Chicago blogger called the Parking Ticket Geek. Geek says he has made regular inquiries of both Ramirez and LAZ Parking.

"I called for a week straight. . . . I am friendly and nice and polite on the phone . . . and never ever get a call back," he said by phone Thursday.

Only five Chicago aldermen bucked the mayor on the privatization of parking meters, and one was Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward, which includes Wicker Park and Bucktown. It wasn't that Waguespack opposed raising rates, something that hadn't been done in years, but he believed an increase should be "incremental, not drastic" and that the city could have done it on its own.

Now, he says, people in his ward are suddenly seeing not only empty meters but more cars clogging residential neighborhoods in search of free spaces, a problem for people who live there.

The whole purpose of parking meters was as an urban planning tool, used to generate turnover so businesses could see a steady stream of customers who park for a short time, shop and leave, opening spaces for more shoppers.

Now, Waguespack argues, spaces have become solely "a revenue anchor" and the rates have shot "too high, too quickly."

Are we seeing a boycott?

"I'm not so sure yet," said the alderman, "but it's definitely a refusal."

Call it a pocketbook protest.

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12 Comments

@ Michael/ Chicago cop

That is hilarious that you've stopped writing tickets. If I lived in Chicago, you'd have to throw me in jail, cause I'd take a baseball bat to those damned meters. I'm so glad to hear that Chicagoans are staging a mini-revolt against the privatization.

Thanks for this article - good point about parking meters being meant originally as an urban planning tool. I use parking meters exactly in this fashion: for short errands and shopping, like most people. Now we are getting punished for trying to contribute to smart traffic.

Some remarks here:

* In a press release of last December, Morgan Stanley claims that "The City retains all power and authority to set rates and periods of stay and operation for all of the parking meters in the System.". So interestingly, the price hikes apparently come from our city council and mayor.
(http://www.morganstanley.com/about/press/articles/045f9d28-c142-11dd-b3a2-8df06e0b6eda.html

* Another privatization: Two weeks after mayor Daley was re-elected, the Millenium Park Garages who used to be owned by the city were officially sold to and an run by -g uess who: LAZ Parking. Immediate price hikes followed of partly up to 50% depending on your parking patterns.
(The east side of the garage is still leaking water by the way).

How disgusting all this is. Funny that the city cannot by itself make more money by raising prices, but rather sells off to companies for a short term revenue increase. I don't need to have a M.A. in business to understand what a bad investment this is for the city, and how shortsighted.

The parkers in Chicago need to know that LAZ LTD is in partnership with Europe's top parking operator, VINCI Park. What part of NAFTA does this partnership agreement fall under? Will the only people who park foreign cars not be ticketed in LAZ LTD parking meters? This transaction represented a mutual growth strategy by both parking leaders. VINCI Park has built an extremely successful network of parking operations in countries throughout Western and Eastern Europe and Canada. VINCI Park, headquartered in Paris, France currently operates over 863,000 parking spaces in 300 cities, in 14 countries. This joint venture between LAZ and VINCI enables LAZ Parking to support VINCI Park's growth in the United States? Why does Chicago agree to this manipulation of their territory by the increased cost of metered parking? Will the parking lots adjacent to stadiums, auditoriums, and arenas soon have increases? Just in time for baseball season? Now you know why the price of meter parking has risen in Chicago. Vinci and LAZ Ltd get the increased revenues and the Parkers pay the whole lot!

Instead of meters, take book out of NYC and use the pay box. Allows credit cards and requires a receipt in the windshield. Anything that requires the use of cash or change is out-dated. I can't stand the constant 'nickel and dime' attitude but, we need to vote these people out of office for being so short-sighted. Still love the Chi but, its getting harder and harder to accept the increased cost in doing every day things.

Along with empty parking spaces in front of business, its only a matter of time before the cars and people that frequented those businesses will take their business elsewhere. (Somewhere without a 10.25% sales tax) So it will be empty parking spaces in front of empty store fronts.

Dear Carol, quadruple in 2013? You can say that the fees increased about 10-fold already, at least at some locations!!! I parked tonight on Clark, north of Division. Up to recently parking expenses there were 25¢/hour and free after 6 and on Sundays, now 25¢/8 minutes first hour, 7 minutes 2nd hour, up to 9 PM ever day, that is not quadruple, but an 8-fold, or 800% increase NOW, not even counting the extra hours; including that perhaps a 1000% increase. With such a scam Morgan Stanley/LAZ may get their investment back in a one-year, leaving the city without any additional resources of revenue for 74 years! It would be bad enough, but somewhat acceptable, if the city itself would have increased the fees, but at least then the money could have been used for 75 years of added revenue, for road repairs (much needed), schools, health plans, etc. etc., but now the money goes to greedy Wall Street, Morgan Stanley (haven't these guys already caused enough pain) and LAZ, a Parking Company that claims to give "good service", that service being that the City, at still tax-payers expense, can write tickets! The scam is horrific and stupid and this just at a time when the full effects of privatization become clear, few gain, many many lose, in this case the City and its citizens lost big time because of shortsightedness and greed. I commend the police-person above who refuses to write tickets and I do hope that many will follow his/her example. Hopefully, there will be quite a revolt so that this scam can be undone.

I guess the Rubber Stamps and the Mayor never took economics Micro or Macro. They obviously dont understand cause and effectof taxation.

Dontforget this country is full of examples of tax revolt. Quinn Obama and Daley are all about to find out.

Privatization is a short term answer and long term it will be a disaster. What will that 1 billion be worth 10 yrs from now when its misspent.

Daley wants to privatize everything including police on the south side.

How bout we just privatize his body guard detail, the 6 Burke has and all the other aldercreatures body guards. Have them pay for it themselves also.

Or how about we just privatize all the Rubber Stamps in City hall.


This is capitalism at its best. Just like when centralized economies first fall and companies are privatized, prices immediatley spike. Then market forces take over. I'll bet prices drop on these meters within the next two months.

I live on a block that has metered parking on the streets imediately to the north and west. Parking on the residential street has become impossible. When people just had to throw a quarter in it was not a big deal to park. However for $1 per hour people are opting to find spots on the residential streets. The meters in the neighborhood as the story points out are empty.

Da Mayor clowns us again. He is shooting himself in the foot too many times now. TIF Funding secrets and companies not being held accountable to the terms of the agreement. Hiring unqualified people to run our different agencies. Really, they are not qualified and it shows with a new screw up daily. Huberman is a joke. He can't engage the teachers since he has no clue and hasn't walked the walk. Daley has an ego out of control!

I am a chicago cop and used to write expired meters. Screw the meters, Daley and his sorry-assed police department. I can tell you right now that we all stopped writing them in my district. Have Richie get his fat #$% out there and write them himself in between his scams.

How would a 'crazy' person go about destroying these meters ??


I imaging their are many ways if a 'crazy' person chose to do such a 'crazy' thing.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on March 21, 2009 12:34 PM.

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