Magazine

On-Street Parking in Chicago Ė Lessons to be Learned

By John Van Horn

A Chicago Sun-Times columnist was recently railing on the privatization of parking meters in Chicago. She alluded to the cityís lousy snow removal in 1979 that sparked a voter rebellion and ousted a mayor. She then asked: ďCould parking meters be the new snowĒ for Mayor Daley?

The privatization turnover is not, it appears, exactly a textbook case for how this should be done, but the price hikes seem to be working, kinda. As Parking Today reported earlier, part of the privatization process was a substantial increase in parking fees. (You can read about the rage in links on my March 25 PT blog.)

When I was in Chicago in mid-March, I noted that there was plenty of parking space on-street, but also that my meter was full of quarters and I couldnít insert a coin. Knowing that 90% of all tickets donít get written, I went ďbareĒ and didnít get a ticket. But I digress.

Citizens are screaming about a number of things. First, the signage on the meters seems inconsistent. Second, the meters require tons of quarters to get a bit of time. Third, like me, many find meters full of quarters. Fourth, many meters are broken; vandalism seems rampant. Fifth, with all the confusion, people are getting tickets right and left. And sixth, complaints are going unanswered.

Wow, I feel that, in reality, itís due to the fact that people will pay less to park in local garages than pay the high rates on-street. However, the rates may be a tad too high.

If there is more than one space per block-face open, then that means the rates are set too high and need to be adjusted down (Shoup 101).The operator needs the flexibility to raise and low rates as needed to keep the requisite parking space available on-street. They could vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and from day to day (less expensive on weekends or after 10 p.m. or whatever).

I assumed the new parking company, Morgan Stanley/Laz, would raise rates slowly, area by area, as they replaced the parking meters with equipment or systems that take credit cards and/or cash. However, they seemed to have put the increased rates into effect all at once. Hence the problems with meters being full and irate and confused citizens.

I am a bit surprised at all the furor in Chicago. Laz is a good professional company, and one would have thought that the issues listed above would have been foremost in their minds when they took over.

Of course, the local press hasnít been a help. I have fielded at least four calls from Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune reporters with agenda-driven stories. One wanted to know all about vandalism in parking meters: How much is there, where itís worst, is it growing as a problem worldwide?

That was a hard one for me to address. I didnít know it was a problem. I knew there were spates of it from time to time, but usually it was driven, like in Chicago, by a policy change and then petered out. But the reporter didnít want to hear that, and I referred her to Larry Berman, thinking his NYC experience might give her pause.

It seems that with all the trouble with the Chicago privatization transition, a good policy would have been to have a moratorium on citations until all the systems were in place, everything checked out, and people used to the new program.

I think this could have been done without telling anyone. Just have the ticket writers give warnings, and if a person received two or three warnings, turn the last one into a ticket. But then, Iím sitting in my office in Los Angeles, and not on the front lines in Chicago. Mayor Daley is tough and says that Laz can withstand the complaints that will soon drop off. He hopes.

That brings us back to the Sun-Times columnistís query above. Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic lost a squeaker election to Jane Byrne after three major snowstorms paralyzed the city in 1979 and Bilandic was seen as ineffective in getting the streets cleared.

Will parking meters be Mayor Daleyís snowstorm?

Article Abstract from May, 2009




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