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CHICAGO (CBS) — Aldermen on Wednesday approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to rework the city’s parking meter lease deal, despite concerns about the financial fallout from the deal.
The vote was 39-11, with opponents expressing concerns that the new deal gives the private company Chicago Parking Meters LLC another huge cash windfall.
The plan makes several changes to the 75-year parking meter lease deal, including free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods in exchange for extended hours at most meters the rest of the week. Free Sunday parking and the new hours the rest of the week will take effect on July 1.
However, many aldermen worry the benefit of free Sunday parking would be outweighed by having to pay for parking longer the rest of the week.
Emanuel has termed the changes an effort to “make a little lemonade out of a big lemon.” Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), one of the 11 aldermen who voted against the changes, mocked the mayor’s assertion.
“Some lemons shouldn’t be made into lemonade. Some lemons should be returned to the store for a refund,” Fioretti said.
The original lease deal was roundly blasted as a giveaway to Chicago Parking Meters. Critics say the city allowed the company to pay only $1 billion to take over the meters, much less than the true value.
The parking meter firm agreed to allow motorists to park for free in the neighborhoods in exchange for longer hours at most other meters.
Meters that now must be fed until 9 p.m. would have to be fed until 10 p.m., except in Streeterville and River North, where they would have to be fed until midnight. Meters that must be fed until 6 p.m. would not be affected.
The city and the parking meter firm also have settled a dispute over lost parking revenue from street closures and free parking for motorists with disabled parking placards, after an audit ordered by the mayor found the parking meter firm had been overbilling the city by $20 million a year.
The firm has agreed to allow the city to calculate how much it must reimburse the company for lost revenue from street closures and disabled parking, rather than relying on the company’s estimates.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) praised the savings the mayor’s team negotiated on reimbursements to the parking meter firm for street closures and free disabled parking, and scoffed at those who voted against the changes due to worries about the changes to parking hours.
“This, in my opinion, is that we’re tripping over $100 bills to pick up nickels,” he said.
The plan would also allow motorists to pay for parking by cell phone, rather than having to walk to a parking meter and print out a receipt, then return to their car to place the receipt on their dashboard. The pay-by-cell option would carry a 35 cent fee for each transaction.