Cold temps freeze many Chicago parking meters

January 11, 2010 1:20:42 PM PST
Thursday's deep freeze brought an unpleasant surprise for some drivers trying to park on city streets. Some of the new parking boxes were frozen and would not issue tickets after car owners paid for parking. This is the latest in a series of problems for the parking meter system since it was leased to a private company.

Parking on the city streets can be tough enough. Thursday was a rude awakening for some. City officials say some of the old meters froze in extreme weather. But now the new system has received its first test of Chicago winter.

In these frigid temperatures, Lee Grosky was hoping for a quick trip to pay for parking before her appointment.

It wasn't meant to be.

"I think they're frozen. The buttons. So what do I do now?" said Grosky.

Grosky called to report the problem near the intersection of Clark and Hollywood.

A few minutes later Chris Renkosiak tried to pay at the same box.

"I tried hitting all the buttons, and all three of the buttons are frozen stuck," said Renkosiak. "I don't know what we should do? Should we find another meter or not?"

Renkosiak also called in the problem. ABC 7 came to this location because a viewer had called about problems with the pay box early Thursday morning.

A crew arrived about 1 p.m. to de-ice the machine. The maintenance crew supervisor says they have been responding to frozen pay boxes through the night.

"Very, very busy all night, all day, all the time," said Javier Garcia, Smith Maintenance.

The city's Department of Revenue says about 70 of their new parking pay boxes had problems in the cold.

The new parking system has been criticized for increased rates, how the contract was approved and how the proceeds are spent.

But city officials say the blame for Thursday's problems rests simply with the extreme weather.

"Equipment during conditions like this, there's gonna be a propensity to fail, no matter if it's a single space meter, one of the older meters, or one of the new pay boxes," said Matt Darst, Department of Revenue.

"Frozen parking meters, frozen water hydrants, frozen doors, frozen cars-- yes, they are all out there...Everything's frozen," said Mayor Daley.

Back on North Clark Street, the motorists ABC 7 talked with had some suggestions.

"I hope they do away with this system. I don't like it," said Grosky.

"Meter holidays are always great. I don't know if you can make a winter-long one or not, but this is probably something they should have thought putting something like this is Chicago," said Renkosiak.

City officials say, if you attempt to pay and the box malfunctions, call in the problem. And, if you are ticketed, you can contest the ticket. But parking enforcement officials were told to check the boxes before issuing tickets and if the view of a parking receipt is obstructed by snow or ice to not give a ticket.

When asked if the boxes were climate tested, the Department of Revenue's first deputy said they were and they are in other cold climates -- in the Rockies and in Canada.

Correction: When this story was originally posted to our website on December 10, 2009, it included a graphic that showed a parking meter manufactured by the Parkeon company. However, Parkeon meters were not on the streets of Chicago when we reported our story and are no longer used in Chicago. The city's new parking meters are manufactured by Cale Parking Systems USA. We regret the error.