Parking fee increase angers Chicagoans

By mlekovic

Chicago residents are dismayed over the parking meter price increases and are reacting by vandalizing meters and boycotting street parking in the city.

Across the city, parking meters have been jammed, painted over and broken. These acts show frustration and rebellion of Chicagoans against Chicago Parking Meters, LLC (CPM) and their new prices. The parking meter debacle not only affects motorists, but businesses, business owners and cyclists.

In the past six weeks, motorists have seen a rate increase than any other in the past two decades. Rates will continue to rise, and time allotment has been decreased. The city of Chicago is not impacted by these incidents because it sold the parking meters to LAZ, a privately operated company that is owned by CPM, LLC.

The city of Chicago and CPM agreed to a 75-year deal in which it will be the sole profiteer and operator of the parking meter systems. CPM knew the rewards and consequences of the contract and is now facing a dilemma that neither the city of Chicago nor CPM predicted. In their contract, it states that CPM must ensure that all of the meters with hourly rates greater than $1.50 per hour have a cashless payment option so that customers don’t have to frequently leave work or a meeting to feed the meter.

The switch to cashless payment meters has not started yet, due to the difficulties CPM has faced in its first six weeks of ownership, said Paul A. Volpe, mayoral chief of staff.

“Another benefit of this transaction is that CPM bears for the life of this agreement the financial risk of any changes in motorists’ behavior as it relates to meter parking,” Volpe said at a press conferene held at City Hall on March 31.

Dennis Pedrelli, CEO of CPM, said, “CPM acknowledges the operational challenges,” but they are being taken care of so that the motorists can get the full benefit of the parking meter system.

On behalf of CPM, Pedrelli said some of the issues occurred because they underestimated the resources that the system required. Sixty new employees have been added to the CPM staff to make sure that the parking meters are working properly, not being vandalized and ticketing the motorists who overstay their welcome, Pedrelli said.

Along with the new CPM staff, the city of Chicago has transferred 30 Department of Revenue personnel over to help train the CPM employees to maintain the meters. The loan is all under the CPM expense and Department of Revenue personnel are getting paid for the contribution in order to fix the matter swiftly.

“Customer service continues to remain our first priority,” Pedrelli said. “We are dedicated to resolving customer service issues first and foremost, which has resulted in us delaying the increase in meter rates in some areas.”

Most Chicagoans who park in the South Loop don’t believe customer service is CPM’s first priority, because the prices per hour have increased on almost all of the meters while the time per dollar has decreased.

Ronnie Saravia, a Chicagoan who uses parking meters frequently, is in awe and disbelief that at some posts, a motorist only gets seven minutes per quarter.

“I park when I go to school over at El Centro; I have to leave earlier for school so I can find parking,” Saravia said. “I avoid parking meters as much as possible.”

Kate Ekman, a student at Northeastern Illinois University, uses her bike as transportation to school every day. Even though she does not pay for parking, she uses the meters as a parking spot to lock her bicycle to, she said.

“When they rip out the meters like they are doing here on the six-block radius of Bryn Mawr [between two colleges] and are not replacing them, they are reducing the ability of cyclists to use these businesses,” Ekman said about the new changes put into effect by CPM.

For concerned motorists, both Volpe and Pedrelli expressed that motorists are able and allowed to park at inoperable meters as long as they report the meter within 24 hours.

“If a motorist believes a citation was issued in error, they can and should contest the ticket,” Volpe said.