CHICAGO — After a month delay, Chicago drivers are finally starting to see higher parking meter rates that were originally expected to take place in January.
Work crews for Chicago Parking Meters LLC this week began the task of raising the metered parking rates for each of more than 4,000 parking meter pay boxes across the city.
Workers began the project in the Loop, where the city's most lucrative and expensive parking meters have been changed to charge $6.50 per hour. That's an increase of 75 cents per hour from 2012 and gives Chicago the distinction of having the nation's highest downtown rates.
Crews then moved to pay boxes in areas adjoining the downtown area such as River North, Gold Coast, and the South Loop where the rate has been increased from $3.50 per hour to $4.00 per hour.
Parking meter pay boxes in outlying neighborhoods will see rates rise a quarter to a $2.00 per hour — a rate that is as expensive as the downtown rates of major American cities like Houston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
According to the CPM website, drivers are only expected to pay the rate listed on each pay box during the transition.
"As the transition moves forward, motorists are only responsible for paying the posted rate on the meters," a news release for the company states. "Accordingly, only the posted rates on each meter will be enforced."
The company plans on having all parking meter pay boxes switched over to the new rates by the end of this month.
"Yes, crews are still on track to complete the rate increase rollout by the end of February," said CPM spokeswoman Lena Parsons when asked to confirm the rate changes were taking place. "As you know, it's CPM policy not to discuss timing and route of the rollout."
This year marks the fifth year in a row of planned rate increases because of Chicago's parking meter lease contract, a privatization deal that was spearheaded by former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. The agreement, which generated a $1.16 billion upfront payment to the city, allows CPM to collect tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars of annual meter revenue until 2083.
Curiously, despite the meter company's normally expeditious rate changeover immediately after the start of the last three years, this January the company delayed implementing the rate hikes until February.
According to calculations based on the company's reported revenue in 2011, the company stands to lose nearly $900,000 for delaying the 13 percent increase in rates for one month.
This move led to speculation that the delay was part of backroom negotiations on the outstanding $60 million CPM has billed the city for closure of metered spaces or excessive free parking given to drivers with disabled placards or handicap license plates or even a re-negotiation of the entire meter lease.
While one city spokesperson said the delay was tied to contract issues, another mayoral spokesperson strongly denied any connection.
Although this is the last year of set meter rate increases, motorists should not assume an end to annual bumps in the cost of metered parking. That's because the meter lease contract allows for future annual increases tied to the rate of inflation.