Rahm Made the Meter Deal Worse, and That Shows No Signs of Changing

Traffic on Belmont
Now that parking is free on Sundays, retail areas see less parking turnover and more traffic. Photo: Julie Gibson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel still hasn’t let any aldermen reinstate metered parking on Sundays, despite promises last summer to do so after he announced a renegotiated parking meter deal. A new study released today shows why it may never happen.

Navigant Consulting’s report for the mayor’s office [PDF] says that “parkers” are paying less than Navigant had estimated last summer. It also shows that the city is paying less to Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, because it no longer has to pay for road closures (including street festivals and construction) that happen on Sundays. Combined, CPM is collecting $8.7 million less from Sunday parkers and the city annually. (The report doesn’t specify how much of that total is attributable to each source.)

This result suggests why Emanuel has been dragging his feet on letting aldermen opt out of free Sunday parking, because then the numbers for the “savings” wouldn’t look as good. The study supports 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack’s assertion that allowing metered Sundays would “hurt the deal they cut,” as he told DNAinfo.

Waguespack’s chief of staff Paul Sajovec says he’s responded twice to the mayor’s office’s demand that aldermen prepare a packet containing an explanation of why they want metered parking on Sundays, where they want it, and letters of support from local businesses and associations. The last time was January 13 and the intergovernmental affairs office still hasn’t responded as to what the next steps are.

In a press release from the 32nd Ward office [PDF], Alderman Waguespack called the report “flawed and misleading,” adding that the purported savings of $8.7 million on Sundays “overlooks or simply ignores that removing Sunday parking fees alters the utilization patterns of metered parking spaces in ways that make parking less convent for residents and less beneficial for businesses.” Sajovec says he’s not surprised anymore at the lack of response from the mayor’s office.

What’s getting lost in the administration’s rush to claim victory is that free Sunday parking is bad transportation policy. The city continues to frame parking policy in terms of how much drivers are paying. But putting the right price on street parking is a crucial part of keeping traffic in check, improving access to business districts, and reducing illegal parking that creates hazards on the street.

Emanuel should be putting pressure on CPM to achieve these goals through its management of parking meters. Rather than eliminating meters on Sundays, CPM should be adjusting prices throughout the day to attain the optimal number of open parking spots. This would reduce cruising and double-parking, creating a better street environment for transit, biking, and walking. Instead, all we’re getting is more inane discussion about who’s paying what.

  • mattfromchicago

    Can we compromise that parking can be free Sunday but say you have to at least go to the meter and print out a new sticker say, every 1-2 hours? So it would at least be an inconvenience for jackholes who want to park their car on a business corridor from Saturday night to Monday morning? Or offer maybe an hour gratis and then start charging people?

    There has to be some middle room here for Rahm to save face and not further destroy small business Chicago.

  • DFD

    That’s actually not a bad idea. With that in mind, why not allow free parking but still enforce the standard 2 hour limit during business hours to force turnover.

  • rohmen

    How does reinstating Sunday parking work under the deal?

    For instance, if Waguespack reinstates it for parts of the 32nd ward, does the City then have to start paying CPM money when portions of the street where the meters have gone back into operation are closed on Sundays?

  • rohmen

    “Rather than eliminating meters on Sundays, CPM should be adjusting prices throughout the day to attain the optimal number of open parking spots. This would reduce cruising and double-parking, creating a better street environment for transit, biking, and walking.”

    I’m preaching to the choir, but this is obviously why you do not as a City privatize things like parking meters. CPM only has one incentive–to make as much money for its investors as possible. Perhaps CPM can be convinced to pursue these goals by demonstrating how it can net them more money, but Emanuel likely has little “pressure” he can apply to achieve goals that may improve the community, but do not necessarily fill CPM’s pockets.

  • I can only make my best guess in answering your question. I believe the answer is “yes, the city would have to repay CPM for street closures on those meters that have returned to service.”

  • I disagree that it was wrong for Mayor Daley and the City Council to privatize parking meters. I think it was wrong, deceitful, and evil for Mayor Daley to propose such a bad agreement and for the 45* City Council members to approve it.

    * I believe only 40 aldermen voted for it, 5 against, and 5 abstained but those abstentions are votes in favor.

  • I believe the case can be made to CPM that dynamic pricing has the potential to increase their revenues or be the same. If we used market/demand-based pricing, some areas would have higher fees than current at certain times of the day or week, and other areas would decrease lower than current fees.

    Why don’t we pilot it in high-demand areas like Little Village and Lincoln Park?

  • If you could reasonably enforce that to a level where it becomes largely self-enforcing, this is just as good as having free parking.

    This is actually what Paul Sajovec was alluding to in the press release and in our phone conversation prior to publishing:

  • rohmen

    I agree that dynamic pricing sounds like a great idea. I guess the thing that bugs me is one of the perceived positives to privatizing these types of systems is that the private sector will then drive new ideas forward based on the profit incentive, while government would be trapped in old ways of thinking.

    Meanwhile, we’re now sitting here brainstorming of ways local government can sell changes to the private company. Point being, privatization in this type of situation often just changes one inefficient bureaucracy for another.

  • oooBooo

    A crony monopoly is a not a market.

  • Guest

    (deleted)

  • Read the Damn Agreement

    How about reading the agreement before jumping in with a guess on what may happen should they start charging for Sundays? Under terms of the deal, Sunday meter revenue should it be reinstated would go directly to the City less a 15% operating fee to CPM. There are provisions for the City to add additional meters at any time anywhere in the City under the reserved meters clause.

  • Aaron Berlin

    Does the existing agreement allow for dynamic pricing? I assumed it was like the toll road deals, where the prices that could be charged were fixed, with periodic increases over long timespan. It’s clearly the more efficient approach to pricing, but I’d always assumed it wasn’t politically feasible. Imagine the recent Uber surge pricing PR catastrophe, but occurring every time there’s only one open spot downtown. People feel gouged under those circumstances, even if there are other alternatives at far lower expense.

  • Chrissy Mancini

    If the city wants to do dynamic pricing the concession requires CPM to configure the meters to price in 15 minutes increments. However that does mean the city is changing meter rates, so if those meters didn’t meet projections, the city is on the hook.

  • lindsaybanks

    Enforcing that would probably be more trouble than it’s worth.

  • StanleyZ

    So Rahm’s deal basically screwed small businesses but then when he allows free Sundays to go away, he ensures CPM gets a windfall on Sunday. Good point on pricing the system, so why didn’t Rahm put in a better pricing system when he negotiated his deal with CPM? Also, it seems they didn’t think about the actual traffic hazards plus the people driving around burning fuel to park.

  • I didn’t say the revenue would go elsewhere.

    Under the agreement the city transferred 828 “reserved metered spaces” to be CPM’s “concession metered spaces” while receiving back its 17 parking lots containing 1,100 spaces and placing those in “reserve.”

    To keep reading from the agreement, page 20 of 359… the city also paid back CPM all the revenue it received since December 1, 2012, from 983 spaces in the Loop.

  • You can score more points by providing free services than even more expensive ones is my guess.

  • Matt F

    wow that’s a great idea

  • Matt F

    I don’t consider myself the biggest proponent of Rahm, but there’s not many avenues to make the parking deal ‘better.’ It was a bad deal when it was passed and it’s still a bad deal.

    Analogy: you cannot take a piece of dog poop and sculpt it into a Picasso. Well, you could, but it’s still dog poop at the end of the day.

  • lindsaybanks

    If Chicago were to efficiently manage its parking — rather than focusing on how much drivers have to pay — it would actually be a win-win outcome. You probably didn’t think we could get all winners out of this, did you?

    We studied the occupancy rates in Wicker Park / Bucktown. The metered spaces are barely used during daytime business hours, and 100% full on Friday and Saturday nights when the meters are free (10 pm – late night). That means that the price to park at the meter is too high, and the enforcement hours don’t coincide with demand. If they were to implement variable pricing, they would lower the rate during the day, extend the meter hours when there is high demand, and increase the price to park in areas where and when the demand is high.

    This would result in an overall savings to drivers (most meter prices would go down), happy businesses whose customers can find a spot that they’re willing to pay for, less traffic congestion and fewer distracted drivers hoping to find a spot, and more revenue to CPM (which no one wants, but who cares – this should encourage them to implement performance-based pricing throughout the city).

    AND if the City were to add meters where they currently don’t have meters, they get to keep 85% of the revenue. Put meters in where you have parking congestion, charge the right price so it doesn’t become a ghost town, and you get to keep the money. THAT’s a savings to taxpayers in my book–desperately needed revenue to pay for City services that would benefit all taxpayers, including those who don’t drive.

  • Pete

    This is the kind of flexibility we COULD have had if the city council had the balls to veto Daley’s abomination of a parking meter lease deal. The agreement was created to benefit everyone except Chicago drivers and taxpayers, hence it allows for no such flexibility. Oh well, only 71 more years until we can consider a great idea like this.

  • lindsaybanks

    Actually, the lease allows the City to do all this. They can implement variable pricing, as long as CPM gets the revenue that it expects to get from metered spaces; or the City can balance it with revenue from any added “reserve” parking spaces.

  • Jim

    This could all be automated through RFID and other technologies, such as RFID tags that most State and Regional DOTs use to automate toll collection. Set up an area with RFID readers, allow drivers to park for free for a certain amount of time, and automatically begin billing after the free allotment. This setup could also allow for the collecting of parking demand data to enable demand-based variable pricing.

  • Jim Mitchell

    Personally, I like this idea, but boy-howdy, I can’t wait to hear the tin-foil hat brigade chime in on this. Might as well propose tattooing UPC codes on our foreheads.

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