City taking action on parking meter controversy

March 31, 2009 2:59:04 PM PDT
The mayor's office has suspended the company's power to write parking tickets. The action was taken after many drivers complained about the problems with the city's parking meters.

To deal with what has become a flashpoint issue around the city the mayor assigned his chief of staff to make the announcement on Tuesday afternoon.

Only six weeks after Chicago leased its parking meters to a private company that immediately raised the rates, there is a major change in the agreement's terms for immediate future.

The problems have worsened since February 13 when the privateers took over management of the city's 36,000 metered spaces. The management company, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, admits now it didn't have enough workers to empty meters. Many broke when they were overstuffed with quarters needed to pay the higher rates. And the vandals, angered by those rates, began intentionally breaking the company's $1.2 billion worth of leased money-makers.

"There have been several incidents of vandalism. We do not have an exact count but we are working, as I noted in the statement, to resolve those issues as we move forward," said Dennis Pedrelli, Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.

In a re-group move on Tuesday, the city announced that its lessee, CPM, would no longer be able to write tickets on cars parked at expired meters. But that doesn't mean there won't be tickets.

"We're saying the city continues to issue tickets. The city continues with its own workforce to be able to issue tickets. We should be very clear on that," said Paul Volpe, mayor's chief of staff.

The parking meter deal is not the only lease of a public asset causing City Hall headaches.

The group that agreed to lease Midway Airport can't close the deal because of trouble raising the $2.5 billion lease price.

"It's strictly the markets. It has nothing to do with anything else, it's strictly the markets," said Mayor Daley.

But Daley who also leased the Skyway and four downtown parking garages is unmoved by problems with the parking meter and airport deals. He said if more governments wised up and simply leased more of what they owned they might not have to raise taxes anymore.

"If every city, county and state government ever got together and appointed a national commission to review public assets to be leased, you could raise more money in this country than all the taxes you could raise," said Daley.

The private contractor also will hire an additional 60 employees and extend work hours to improve service. It also promises to attack the vandalism problem with new meters that will alert the central office when one is broken.

The mayor did not attend the parking meter announcement. He spoke at his own news conference earlier during which he criticized the governor's income tax increase plan.


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