Parking Is Not For Cheapskates

There was a time when parking was a simple chore. I can remember as far back as the late 1950’s living on Chicago’s West Side on Jackson Boulevard where there was not that much competition for curbside parking. Although we lived in a large apartment building complex there seemed to be more than adequate space on the street for my father to park his Plymouth. Very few, if any, of our neighbors had more than one car in the family.

We soon did a “Jefferson” and moved on up, or actually down a mile and a half further west to a street named Quincy filled by two-flat apartment buildings sprinkled with a couple of larger complexes. Most of the two-storey houses had garages in the back facing the alley behind us. In 1959, Dad traded in the Plymouth for a black Chevrolet Biscayne the size of a boat with fin tails. Still, there was available space to usually park near the front of the house. My best friend (at the time) Perry’s parents each had their own car. One was parked in the garage, the other on the street. In my book, having two personal transportation devices made my buddy’s family a little more than middle class, bordering on the rich.

It wasn’t that difficult to find parking on the local neighborhood commercial avenues such as Madison Street if you didn’t mind feeding a parking meter. In the late 1950’s and through the 1960’s, it cost less then a quarter to park for a significant time while you went buying up the block’s merchandise. You could insert a nickel or dime- maybe even a penny- and buy time to secure your car close to your destination.

Today, it is a different story. A few years ago, then-Mayor Richard Daley (the son, not the ‘shoot to kill’ father) decided that the only way for the city of Chicago to quickly pick up some much needed dough was to sell the rights to collecting the loot in the parking meters to an independent company. They got to keep all the dough by giving several million dollars up front to the city. It is a long term contract not up for renew for a few decades.

At the time, the mayor patted himself on the back proclaiming the city now had money put away for a rainy day. The feeling of euphoria did not last too long as it has been raining nonstop in Chicago for the past few years. The extra money has practically vanished.

To make matters worse, the geniuses representing the city allowed for a provision which is now coming back to bite them. The deal is that anyone who has a special handicapped driver’s sticker on their car is immune from paying into the parking meters. The city helps defray a portion of the loss in revenue to the company that now owns the rights to collecting the proceeds. The city did not anticipate properly the number of people who would take advantage of a professed handicap and avoid paying. The company did an audit and came up with a figure of over $12 million that they claim they lost to cheaters of the system during the previous year and sent a bill to the new mayor.

Now, the new mayor and the company are at odds on how to justify $12 million, plus where does the city get the money to pay such a huge sum. But, that is only part of the aggravation with the new
parking meter system of which the city no longer controls.

It costs at least a couple of dollars to park for an hour at a meter. Actually, there are hardly any meters regardless. Instead, a box sits on the sidewalk in the middle of the block. One drops in coins, currency or a credit card to assign the amount of time needed and the machine in turn dispenses a sticker which is placed on the car windshield. If a scofflaw is caught with time expired on the sticker or worse, no sticker at all, the fine can be over $100. The concept of a sticker is relatively new to Chicago but common place in foreign countries.

Rate increases are scheduled into the contract. It will cost $5.75 for an hour to park at a meter in downtown Chicago starting in 2012. In 2013, it goes up to $6.50. Not too many years ago, this price was akin to parking in an indoor lot. Parking lots in the downtown area usually get $20 the moment you roll the car into the facility. I guess if you are lucky enough to find an outdoor spot curbside, $5.75 does not sound like such a bad deal. As for me, I have a simple solution to avoid funding this albatross of a bad deal for the city. I don’t get involved- I avoid going downtown unless I really need to.

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