March 25, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
'Boycott' may not be too strong a word after all. I'm talking about Chicago parking meters and the fury out there right now about what the mayor and the City Council have done by selling off our meters to a private company for $1.2 billion. And the rage over what that company, formed by Morgan Stanley, and its subcontractor, LAZ Parking, have done by meteorically raising rates, blanketing cars with tickets and eliminating free Sunday parking. Adding insult to injury, these private contractors have done a rotten job of posting new rates and times on meters.
As a result, drivers stick their quarter in only to discover it now buys a measly seven minutes and can require 28 quarters to park for two hours.
Your raging e-mails came roaring in after my Sunday column, in which I noted what you apparently noticed, too. That suddenly there are scads of empty metered parking s-p-a-c-e-s downtown where cars just a month ago were bumper to bumper. Could this, I asked, signal a citizen boycott, or was boycott too strong a word?
"Personally, I'm in full boycott mode," replied a computer consultant who does business in the city. "I'll stand on my head to . . . spare myself an onsite visit if street parking is involved."
He added this: "Because of the outrageous 10.25 percent Cook County sales tax, I go out of my way to make my purchases outside the county . . . To hell with Chicago."
A teacher who lives in the South Loop along Printer's Row wrote, "Now I have to wake up at 7:30 on Sunday so that I can move my car. Many of the businesses in my area are not even open on Sundays. My street is like a ghost town. It's lost its vibrancy. . . . I have some friends that live in areas where meters are 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I don't know how they're coping."
But the most compelling letter came from a young woman named Tasha Huebner, who is being treated for breast cancer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital just off the Inner Drive. In the fall, before the meters went private, Huebner might have to circle awhile but could usually find a meter, put an extra quarter or two in it to avoid being ticketed, and go in for her radiation.
"Fast forward to last Friday," she e-mailed, "when I had 2 follow-up appointments with doctors . . . I'd been stockpiling quarters . . . since I knew I'd need quite a few. I find a spot, no problem (there are actually a lot of spots open, hmmm). Put in a quarter . . . and see that it only got me 7 minutes. 7. I start thinking -- I'm there early, and I'll be there for a while . . . they might run late so I need to build some cushion time in. So I calculate all that, realize that I don't have 8 pounds of quarters with me, and also realize that I could either pay $7-8 for street parking (and I'd have to dash back in between appointments to put more money in), OR I could just park at Northwestern's garage and get up to 7 hours of validated parking for $10. I drove off to park in the garage. Thinking, 'Screw you, Daley.' "
Mayor Daley was quoted in the Tribune a couple of days ago as saying, "Let's not blame this new company. There will be complaints, but like anything else, they will get to those complaints."
They don't seem to be in much of a hurry, mayor.
Oh, and you know those un-elected private contractors you've allowed to operate our parking meters for the next 75 years? They do an abysmal job of answering questions and, in the case of subcontractor LAZ Parking, an arrogant job of not calling back.
In 1979, lousy snow removal sparked a voter rebellion and booted a mayor.
Could parking meters be the new snow?