Emanuel’s parking meter plan clears key vote

June 3, 2013

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s changes to the much-hated parking meter privatization contract are now headed for the full City Council, after easily clearing a key committee vote on Monday.

The plan passed out of the Finance Committee on a 15 to 6 vote, despite some aldermen’s concerns that the changes could lead to another windfall for Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which runs the city’s 36,000 metered spaces.

Under Emanuel’s proposal, the city would save about $25 million a year from lowered reimbursement costs it pays to CPM whenever a meter is taken out of service, whether for street construction or a festival.

But Emanuel also inserted provisions to stop charging for Sunday parking in most neighborhoods, in exchange for making drivers feed the parking meters longer during the rest of the week.

Meters in most neighborhoods would operate for an extra hour, shutting down at 10 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. But near downtown, drivers would have to keep paying until midnight.

The so-called “Sunday swap” has drawn criticism of a handful of aldermen who seem skeptical of the Emanuel administration’s estimate that CPM would only make $7.4 million a year off of the extended hours. Aldermen don’t want to be seen as giving any more money to CPM, after they hastily signed away the city’s meter system for $1.15 billion in 2008 - only to learn that lurking in the complex deal were many hidden costs for the city.

A handful of aldermen tried unsuccessfully to separate the Sunday swap from the negotiated reimbursement rates. Emanuel’s administration also trotted out an independent study from Chicago-based Navigant Consulting, Inc., to back up their revenue estimates.

But some aldermen still weren’t buying it.

“We’ve been bitten once,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly, whose downtown 42nd Ward would bear the brunt of the longest extended meter hours.

Regardless of the opposition, the mayor’s parking meter contract changes seem headed for approval by a comfortable majority at Wednesday’s full city Council meeting, said Ald. Pat O’Connor, 40th, who also serves as the mayor’s unofficial floor leader.

“It’s not necessarily a shot at redemption, although it is a savings,” O’Connor said.