Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune
At City Hall this morning, Mayor Emanuel announced modifications to the city’s infamous parking meter lease, an issue he has promised to tackle since deciding to run for the city’s top office three years ago. The changes are relatively small, but newsworthy nonetheless. Here’s what drivers need to know:
Started at the end of the summer, metered parking spaces in Chicago neighborhoods will now be free on Sundays. “Neighborhoods,” as defined by the contract, include all meters south of Roosevelt, west of Halsted, and north of North Avenue. This change is good for the pocketbook of drivers, especially those who travel by car to church or temple, though it's hard to see how it won't worsen weekend traffic congestion, particularly around brunch hot spots.
One of the most exciting changes is a new pay-by-phone option. Starting in 2014, for a $0.35 charge, parkers will be able to “simply enter a pay box number visibly posted on street signage into a cellular phone application without the need for a receipt.” San Francisco rolled out a similar option two years ago; now there are apps that let you keep track of the time remaining, and avoid a walk to the box to reload. The downside (besides the fee to use it): No paper receipts make art like Parka the Hutt a thing of the past.
Finally, in exchange for waiving charges on Sunday, the city will extend weekday metered parking by one hour, until 10:00 p.m., for all blocks where metered parking currently ends at 9:00 p.m. (Side streets where meters run until 6:00pm won’t be affected.) The mayor's office buried that last change in its press release announcing the deal, for obvious reasons.
There's some developments on the public financial end of things, too. Last fall, after the city independently audited the existing contract, Emanuel threw a fit when the city received bills for lost revenue Chicago Parking Meters LLC said it couldn’t collect because of street closings and disabled-parking placards. (Emanuel did “[deploy] city attorneys to help Chicago Parking Meters LLC fend off a challenge to the deal in court,” but I digress.)
Today, he says his team has also “settled the outstanding legal disputes;” of the $49 million Chicago was invoiced for the two-year period ending in March, they agreed to pay just $8.9 million, savings the mayor says “represents over $1 billion in estimated future charges in today’s dollars to the City over the life of the contract that will no longer be payable.” Given how much cash we're on the line for, any savings are welcome savings.
The agreement must be approved by the city council, which will have 30 days to review the particulars. We'll see—that's something they've not done a great job of in the past when this topic has crossed their desks.