A Chicago Transit Deal Drivers Must Know About

April 30, 2008

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Photo by Trim Kabashi

Chicago's courting more than $150 million in federal money for a new bus system. That might seem like background noise to commuters who prefer to drive downtown each day, but this transit deal would affect drivers right where it hurts: their pocketbooks.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley beamed when he announced what the federal government's prepared to put on the table.

DALEY: We are thankful for this major grant of one hundred and fifty-three million dollars that we'll use to reduce traffic congestion and develop  a system that will provide faster, more reliable bus service and attract more riders to transit.

But to get this faster-moving bus system, Chicago will have to pay a price. It must hike downtown parking fees, and those fees have to be high enough to discourage people from driving into the Loop. Mayor Daley says he doesn't know what those might be; he would only say they'll be, "Not as high as high."

But what if Chicago does get congestion-sensitive parking fees? Would they really send people toward transit?

Transportation consultant Tim Doron says that's likely. Dohorn welcomes that, but he says some drivers could suffer.

DORON: You have to take into consideration that some people during the course of a day need their car, so they can't take mass transit.

And then, there's the issue of geography. Chicago hasn't laid out exactly where it would impose new parking surcharges. Doron says, somewhere there'll be a line where the fees end, and neighborhoods just outside the line could fill-up with parked cars. That could create a problem.

DORON: If you're on arterial or collector roadway and you're a business and you rely on people on their access to your front door, it's not such a good thing because people would then be reluctant to come in, park and use your business.

The downtown parking fees are not a done-deal, though; the Chicago City Council will have to decide whether it's worth making downtown drivers pay more for the sake of public transit.