That must have been an interesting 48 hours back in 2008 when the city council reviewed the first parking meter deal. I was not on the city council back then, but I watched it happen.
In 48 hours, the city entered a hugely complex contract that exchanged our parking meter system for 75 years in return for a $1.16 billion check. The cost of that money is now legendary.
We revisited this boondoggle in large part because Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, overplayed their hand and underestimated our Mayor.
CPM essentially sent us a cooked-up invoice, claiming that their figures, which we could not see, showed we owed them tens of millions of dollars for closing off parking spaces during festivals, road construction, and other basic municipal activities.
They are like a vendor contracted to perform work for one price who then sends a bill for ten times that amount. As anyone would, the Mayor sent that bill back and said that we wouldn’t pay it. Good for him, and good for the city he serves.
But just as I could not call a client say, “See how much money I have saved you,” we can’t call that “savings.” It was never due and payable.
Getting those provisions of this one sided contract fixed, and the city in a better position to refute bogus claims for compensation, is where this revised contract shines.
Had that been the end, I might have voted for it. Efforts to separate that from the rest of the deal failed in committee.
But aldermen heard testimony that ratifying this revision further legally entrenches this flawed and questionable deal. Although a circuit court has ruled the contract is valid, a circuit court ruling is never the final word in matters like this.
And had the city joined the lawsuit attempting to invalidate the deal, we might have real lasting relief from this boondoggle.
There is also the other side to this agreement, “free” Sunday parking. Of course, we pay for it with longer parking meter hours, 10 pm in neighborhoods and midnight in River North.
As the Neil Young song goes, “They give you this but you pay for that.” No enforcement on Sunday is simply being traded for longer enforcement across the city.
What we get for longer hours, free Sundays, is bad for our businesses. Parking meters are not intended to generate revenue. They are intended to manage limited parking that is in high demand.
Allowing someone to take up a parking spot in a business district from Saturday night to Monday morning will hurt our storefront businesses.
Additionally, an outside analysis worked on by outside sources with no financial interest in the deal found that CPM came away with higher revenue from this aspect of the deal. We could have asked CPM about this, but they declined our repeated invitation to come to hearings.
Lastly, there was no effort to get data from other cities on how the Pay-By-Cell option might effect usage and revenue for CPM. We shouldn’t make a deal like this without complete data, especially with a company that has already taken advantage of the city.
Although the revision includes some positive changes, there were just too many aspects of the deal that aren’t good for Chicago.
The assumptions made in their financial analysis were skewed to fit the administration’s narrative in order to sell this to the council, and the revisions make it harder to legally undo this contract.
Despite all of the claims of “savings,” the city will pay $70 Million in this settlement and $4.5 Million for 71 years to come. I see no savings in that.
We must work to extract the city from this awful contract.