Recent Chicago Parking Audit Spells Bad News for Motorists (and Every Other Resident): NMA E-Newsletter #708

As of 2022, 61 years are left on the 75-year parking meter lease now held by the Chicago Parking Meters LLC. A recent city audit stated that the private company had already recouped its entire $1.16 billion investment plus $502.5 million more.

According to a recent Chicago Sun-Times article, Chicago parking meter revenue is back to pre-pandemic levels. In 2020, revenues dipped to $91.6 million and climbed back to $136.2 million last year. The Chicago economy rebounded last year, aided by hundreds of new metered parking spaces at Montrose Harbor and many busy streets throughout the city. Chicago Parking Meters LLC has investors from all over the world and will likely end up returning at least six times more than investors put in over the life of the deal.

The original reason for selling the rights to the Chicago parking meters business was to give a break to property owners. How is that working out? Last year, those taxpayers had to absorb a $76.5 million increase in the city’s property tax levy. This was after a $94 million hike in real estate taxes since 2020.

During Mayor Richard Daly’s 1989 to 2011 administration, the city not only leased away the parking meters but also the revenue to the downtown garages and the Skyway toll road. The IIT Chicago-Kent’s Center for Open Government Law Clinic Director Clint Krislov keeps tabs on all three public-private partnerships:

“These three deals turned out to be like payday loans. They were so short-sighted. They took the quick cash, ignoring the fact that they were saddling the city with terribly structured, undervalued deals that will cost the city for decades to come.”

He added:

“The city should have just hired a parking operator to update the technology and operate the system for the city. If they had done that and gotten a better price for all three assets, Chicago today would have between 3 and 4 billion dollars more than it has from these three deals together.”

Mayors since Daly’s reign have tried unsuccessfully to get out of these deals. It has put the city of Chicago in a budget bind. One way they are trying to make up for the deficit is to double down on automated traffic enforcement. Elected officials insist on using red-light and speed cameras to help balance the city’s budget, lawsuits, and general malcontent towards the devices.

Current Mayor Lori Lightfoot convinced the city council to lower the enforcement tolerance for the issuance of speed camera tickets in March 2021. What a cash cow this has been. In July, the Illinois Policy Institute reported that the city of Chicago had issued 3.8 million tickets–that’s an average of 1.4 tickets for every Chicago resident, regardless of whether they drive, in 16 months.

The Institute’s investigation found these $35 tickets raised as much revenue for the city in those 16 months as Chicago speed cameras collected in the three years before Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s policy went into effect. The total was $79.5 million, nearly $200,000 per day in motorist fines.

On July 20, Chicago council members voted down a proposal to repeal the March 2021 tighter-ticketing-tolerance decision because the Mayor vowed to veto any change to the speed cameras. Despite lowering the speed limit threshold last year, traffic deaths continue to climb. An Axios Chicago report found that traffic fatalities near the camera sites have soared 114 percent, compared to a 44 percent increase not controlled by automated cameras. Chicago has had a Vision Zero Action Plan since June 2017.with nothing to show for its investment of tens of millions of dollars beyond higher fatality rates.

Chicago residents, motorists, and non-motorists alike, continue to suffer greatly from short-sighted, revenue-motivated decisions by their city administrators.

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