Starting Sunday, people parking cars in Chicago’s metered spaces will have to mind the signs lest they pay when they don’t have to or get a ticket for not feeding the meters long enough.
Drivers won't need to feed meters at all on Sunday in some Chicago neighborhoods, but they will have to pay to park longer into the evening at many locations during the rest of the week and, once all the changes are rolled out, even on Sunday in some of the city’s busiest areas.
Chicago Parking Meters LLC will begin allowing free Sundays outside the city’s central business district this weekend, according to officials with the city and company that holds the unpopular 75-year lease.
On Sunday, that shift will be made at most pay boxes in a dozen wards south of the Eisenhower Expressway: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd and 25th. The rest of the wards are expected to get free Sundays by July 1, although up to 16 aldermen plan to ask for quick restoration of paid Sunday parking in business districts where parking turnover makes room for more customers.
Starting Monday, the company also will roll out longer hours at meters across the city in spaces that now become free to park in at 9 p.m. Most of those spaces will require payment until 10 p.m. That change also is expected to be completed by July 1 — the day the changes have to be in place under the company’s agreement with the city.
In the central business district, where many meters operate 24 hours a day but fall to half price overnight, full payment will continue to be required until 9 p.m. seven days a week. In River North, Streeterville and some parts of the Gold Coast, the hours of operation will be extended to midnight seven days a week.
All of the changes are the result of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s negotiated settlement of a dispute with the parking meter company that the City Council approved 39-11 this month.
The company agreed to reduce its bills to the city for out-of-service meters during the last two years to $8.9 million from about $50 million and change the way it calculates those bills going forward. City officials say that will save about $25 million a year, although some aldermen have questioned whether the city ever really owed that much in the first place.
The settlement also included trading free Sundays for the extended hours, a swap of spaces and a program to allow parkers to feed meters via cell phone app by May 2014. With pay-by-cell, parkers paying for less than two hours will be charged an extra 35 cents for each transaction. App users also will have to maintain a minimum account balance of $10.
Although the Emanuel administration maintains free Sundays, the extended hours and swapped spaces will be a financial “wash” for the meter company, skeptical aldermen said the extended hours could end up becoming a financial windfall for the company. They also noted that the meter company will be able to make a profit of up to $2 million a year on pay-by-cell.
A Tribune analysis found that even if the mayor's changes reduce penalty payments as projected, taxpayers and meter users still could end up paying the company $517 million in today's dollars during the remainder of the lease for meters out of service because of city actions, excessive use of disabled placards that allow free parking and the pay-by-cell program.
The out-of-service payments, projected at about $4.5 million a year by the city’s own figures, could be reduced by restoring paid Sundays in commercial areas, like the main streets in Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park, Printers Row and Hyde Park.
Ald. Will Burns, whose 4th Ward will see free Sundays starting this weekend, said he is talking with merchants in downtown Hyde Park about restoring paid Sundays. “The question is about the timing,” he said.