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Opinion: Chicago Mayor Makes Parking Meter Deal Worse
Drivers will pay more in Chicago, Illinois under mayoral parking meter deal.

Rahm Emanuel
By The Expired Meter

Chicago, Illinois Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have done the impossible. He may have actually made Chicago's reviled parking meter lease deal even worse.

At a press conference Monday morning Emanuel announced a settlement in the ongoing legal battle between the city and Chicago Parking Meters, LLC (CPM). Initially, it sounded like the city had indeed arm twisted some mild improvements to the universally despised deal out of CPM, but as details of the proposed settlement emerged, Emanuel's allegedly new and improved parking meter lease deal looks like it could make things even more challenging and expensive for Chicago drivers.

The mayor wants to allow Sunday drivers to park for free, evoking the idyllic image of church-going Chicagoans driving to worship early Sunday morning. At his press conference, the mayor conveniently left out the important fact that meters still must be fed Sunday downtown in the Central Business District.

Since traffic and parking volume is lowest on Sundays, this is not much of a concession on CPM's part. Emanuel also agreed to extend meter enforcement by one hour at most metered spots so that drivers must feed meters Monday through Saturday until 10 PM. Adding even more salt to the wound, the mayor targeted the River North entertainment district and wants to allow CPM to charge for meters until midnight seven days a week -- a three hour increase.

While City Hall estimates CPM will see an $8 million loss from allowing free Sunday parking, it says the company will make up $7 million of that amount up with the extended meter hours. Overall, Chicago drivers will not be seeing any benefit from these changes.

Many are skeptical about the city's math. Alderman Scott Waguespack thinks its possible CPM could actually end up generating even more revenue from these changes.

"It's essentially going to be a wash or we're going to be paying more," said Waguespack. "Restaurant patrons, bar patrons, they'll all be paying more. That would probably make them (CPM) a lot more (money)."

Initially, Emanuel's refusal to pay CPM for street closure bills last year seemed like a brilliant bargaining tactic that would allow the mayor to fulfill a campaign promise to force CPM to renegotiate the meter deal. It could have been a rare chance to make needed changes to the scheme former Mayor Richard M. Daley left behind for Emanuel to clean up.

The most glaring example is the meter rates themselves. Emanuel was unable or unwilling to find a way to lower Chicago's parking meter rates which are far and away the nation's highest. Chicago's current three-tiered rate system could have been exploited to lower rates overall. That is because the inflexibility of the current rate structure keeps meter rates artificially high and most likely limits CPM's revenue.

Under the current rates, someone parking in the low-income Austin neighborhood pays the same as the driver in Wrigleyville who finally snags a parking spot after circling the block for twenty minutes.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of what Emanuel is proposing is the concessions from CPM on the tens of millions in street closure bills the company submitted. The mayor claims the company agreed to slash the tab from $49 million to just under $9 million. Going forward, he says his administration was able to convince CPM to change the way street closure claims are calculated saving the city $20 million a year or over a billion dollars over the next 71 years left in the term of the lease.

The Emanuel Administration, however, is not providing details or any data to support their claim. At this point, no one really knows for sure if any of these savings will actually materialize in the long run.

From the driver's perspective, Emanuel's plan makes little sense. Given the mayor's reputation for being a tough as nails negotiator, the supposed concessions he has gotten from CPM are only impressive in how pathetic they are.

Is it possible Mayor Emanuel got outmaneuvered by Chicago Parking Meters? It certainly seems so.

Detailed coverage of Chicago motoring issues can be found at The Expired Meter.

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