Vandalism rises on higher-priced meters

March 26, 2009 (CHICAGO) Some drivers have been complaining about the high rates. They also say that a lot of the meters do not work. That could explain the increase in vandalism at some parking meters and all of the vacant parking spots.

It's all part of what seems to be going on around the city of Chicago. Repairs have been made in the block of North Jefferson as several parking meters were recently vandalized. Also in neighborhood, there are parking meters that are readily available. Some people think it is part of the backlash associated with the increase in parking meter rates.

Frustrated Chicago motorist Gerald Bonaparte feeds a downtown parking meter but not because he wants to.

"We are in a recession. They are making it worse on us by doing things like this. People are starving for money, they're making it worse by adding more money to these meters," said Bonaparte.

The signs of growing discontent over the parking meter rate hike are being seen now in the form of vandalism.

The private contractor tied to a 75-year, $1.15 billion lease deal says it's responded to roughly 3,400 reports of meter maintenance since last month; and adds, "we expected people to be unhappy with the meter increase and have seen an uptick in the vandalism of meters."

Many in the Wicker Park neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest Side are simply fed up.

"Most of the meters are broken. And with them giving out the tickets to everybody with the broken meter, that just makes people even angrier," said Andrew Wozniak, Wicker Park Committee.

While the city's revenue department dispatches workers add a fee to the lease company that helps fix the broken and vandalized meters, the second ward alderman says it doesn't address the real problem. His ward holds a portion of the 25 percent of the 36,000 leased meters. He remains concerned about whether the lease company can keep up its end of the bargain and wonders why it's starting to write tickets for meter violations.

"Until this company gets its act together, all the tickets that have been written from January 1 to today's date are void and we shouldn't be writing any other tickets until this company comes back and says, 'you know what? We finally got our act together.' And it's at that point we should allow the tickets to be written if at all," said Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd Ward.

The lease company admits to writing 125 violations and some 2,500 warning tickets for meter violations. The city says that any revenue derived from the collection of those fines will go to them.

The public may see a different kind of result and ramification as a result of the parking meter boycott. More people may take public transit and more people may use paid parking garages.

Ed Walsh of the city's Department of Revenue sent the following statement to ABC7: "The concessionaire is working to address any issues as quickly as possible, including any meter jams or inoperable meters."

"These efforts include: substantially increasing the number of crews performing collections; Sending inspection teams to check every meter that has been changed to ensure the proper rates are being charged and the correct rates, hours, and days of operation are posted; and Substantially increasing the number of meter mechanics in the field, as well as expanding the days and hours they are working. This includes using City of Chicago meter mechanics - at the concessionaire's expense - to make meter repairs until the concessionaire can increase their on-staff mechanics in the next two weeks."

"The City is not currently tracking parking meter vandalism. However, the City will prosecute anyone who vandalizes parking meters. The City will pursue having all applicable fines assessed and will aggressively pursue the maximum penalties allowed by law including incarceration in a state or local prison."

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