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Concerns Remain About Proposed Changes To Parking Meter Deal

Chicago Parking Meter (CBS)

Chicago Parking Meter (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – As aldermen prepare to vote on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed changes to the controversial parking meter lease deal, the administration’s answers to some concerns have raised other questions for the City Council.

The mayor’s office has negotiated several changes to the 75-year deal with Chicago Parking Meters LLC. The deal would provide free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods, while extending nighttime hours at many meters on Monday through Saturday.

The deal also would settle a dispute between the city and the company over revenue lost to street closures and use of disabled parking placards, which allow drivers to park for free.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports some aldermen have said they don’t want free Sunday parking in their wards. That’s because businesses want to keep people circulating through the shopping districts, rather than having residents simply park in free spots all day.

The Emanuel administration has said aldermen can opt out of free Sunday parking for their wards, but other aldermen have expressed concern that different decisions about Sunday parking in neighboring could lead to chaos.

“If you’ve got a neighborhood ward that has a commercial strip, and the merchants would like that to be paid parking, one side of the street could end up being paid parking on Sunday, and the other side of the street might not,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said. “So that could lead to some customer confusion, and frankly some parking tickets.”

The City Council Finance Committee could vote on the proposed changes on Monday.

Reilly is a likely no vote, but so far it appears a majority of the council could vote yes.

The parking meter deal has been a sore spot for aldermen ever since former Mayor Richard M. Daley rushed the lease through the City Council in December 2008. The switchover to the private parking meter firm was plagued by malfunctioning meters, and parking rates have skyrocketed due to annual rate hikes.

The city was paid $1.15 billion for the deal, but virtually all of that money already has been spent to pay outstanding debt and to help balance city budget deficits in recent years.

Several aldermen have expressed concern that the extended parking hours that would be given to the parking meter firm in exchange for free Sunday parking would be another financial windfall for the company.

Emanuel has said taxpayers would save $1 billion over the remaining 71 years of the lease, thanks to an agreement to allow the city to calculate how much it owes to the parking meter firm for lost revenue from street closures, rather than relying on the company’s estimates. The mayor has said an audit he ordered found the firm had been overcharging the city $20 million a year.

The mayor repeatedly has said he wants to “make a little lemonade out of a big lemon” by getting the parking meter firm to agree to free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods, and reducing the city’s liability for lost parking revenue from street closures.

In exchange for free parking on Sundays, the city has agreed to extend the hours that many parking meters must be fed. Meters that now must be fed until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday will operate until 10 p.m., except just north of downtown (an area bounded by the Chicago River to the south and west, the lake to the east, and Division Street to the north), where they must be feed until midnight, according to the mayor’s office.

Residential parking meters that now must be paid until 6 p.m. won’t be affected. Most meters in and around the Loop already must be fed 24 hours a day.

In addition, the motorists will be given an option to pay for parking with their cell phones, rather than having to walk to the pay-and-display boxes to print out a parking sticker, then take it back to their cars.

The pay-by-cell option will carry a 35-cent convenience fee for each parking meter purchase. The pay-by-cell option would eliminate the need for a driver to place a parking receipt on his or her dashboard. The technology will be available by summer 2014.