Parking tickets suspended due to paybox malfunction

May 27, 2009 3:29:28 PM PDT
A problem with Chicago's parking meter system forced the city to temporarily stop writing parking tickets in the central business district. Some of the new pay-and-display boxes stopped giving out the receipts that drivers must display in their car windows to avoid a parking ticket.

Almost half of those parking pay boxes malfunctioned on Wednesday.

It's just the latest problem to crop up in the city's deal that gave control of parking meters to a private company.

When the city sold its parking concession to private interests last winter, rates were jacked up and meter-holidays were history.

Until Wednesday, when an electronic malfunction rendered hundreds of those new parking boxes inoperable, allowing free parking in the area bounded by Roosevelt, Halsted, North Avenue and the Lake.

But that did not give drivers that delicious satisfaction of knowing they were getting something for free.

On the contrary, error messages provoked anxiety.

"It wouldn't take my credit card. I tried it like four or five times and it is not taking?very frustrating because I don't want a ticket," said Eugenia Ward.

That sense of dread echoed all over downtown Chicago as newly installed parking boxes went on the fritz starting about 7:30 Wednesday morning.

"It seems very unfair because you know it is a 50 percent chance you might come back with a ticket and you might not so it is confusing, you don't know what to do," said Shenel Thomas.

Along downtown thoroughfares vehicles were shorn of receipts showing space had been bought and paid for.

At City Hall - where early in the New Year the city council, including 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, voted overwhelmingly to award the city's meter parking concession to Chicago Parking Meters LLC, for $1.15 billion ? there was frustration at a contractor's incompetence.

"Obviously this company was not prepared to undertake this operation. I think it is time for us as a city council collectively to look at this deal, and say, hey, isn't it time to rip this up and start all over again," said Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd Ward.

You'll find 25 percent of the city's meters in just two downtown wards, one of which is Fioretti's 2nd.

The money from the deal is supposed to fill the city's budget gap until 2012. Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, and its operating company, Laz Parking, figure their system actually works quite well.

"Was there a problem today? Yes there was, but is that a long term problem, no it wasn't. It was a problem that was quickly rectified," said Avis LaVelle, Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.

But there might be political ramifications from Wednesday's situation.

Fioretti is promising to bring the issue of performance to the city traffic committee for review.

The company says all parking boxes were working again by 4 p.m. on Wednesday and tickets started to be written again as of 5 o'clock.

If you received a ticket in error, call 312-744-PARK(7275).

Earlier this month, LAZ Parking, the company that operates the meters for Chicago Parking Meters, answered questions from the City Council's Finance Committee about broken meters and Mayor Daley said there should have been a longer transition to work out the kinks.


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