CHICAGO — Another year, another parking meter price hike.
For Chicago motorists, the start of 2013 brings the fifth straight year of parking meter rate increases, further ensuring that Chicago retains its title for the nation's most expensive meters.
Just four years ago, most parking meters were a paltry 25 cents an hour. On Jan. 1, downtown parking meters will jump 75 cents an hour, from the current $5.75 per hour to $6.50 per hour.
Pricing in the Central Business District, which includes neighborhoods adjacent to the Loop, such as River North, the Gold Coast and South Loop, will go up 50 cents per hour from $3.50 to $4.
Rates will rise 25 cents an hour in most neighborhoods from the current $1.75 to $2.
While Chicago's 2012 meter rates ranked highest in the U.S., according to an annual report issued by San Francisco's SFPark, within the first few days of 2013, Chicago will overtake Vancouver, where the maximum rate is now $6 per hour, for the title of having the costliest parking meters in all of North America.
In the U.S., Chicago is followed by San Francisco ($5.50 per hour), New York ($5 per hour), Los Angeles ($5 per hour) and Seattle ($4 per hour).
In December 2008, the City Council approved a privatization deal put together by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley which leased the city's metered parking spaces to a private firm for $1.16 billion.
As part of that 75-year contract, the city agreed to allow meter rates to rise annually for the contract's initial five years, ultimately making Chicago's downtown rates the highest in the nation.
"Five years later, I still talk to people and businesses that still get upset about it," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who led the fight against the meter privatization five years ago. "When they see rates go up, it reminds them how bad the deal is in perpetuity."
According to the contract, meter rate increases also are tied to the rate of inflation.
The much-criticized meter deal continues to cause controversy. In October, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for an audit of Chicago Parking Meters, which is leasing the rights to the meters, and took in more than $108 million from the city last year. Earlier this month, Emanuel said the company overbilled the city by $22 million.
Although the vast majority of Chicago's metered parking spots may seem a bargain even at $2 per hour, the neighborhood rate is actually expensive compared with downtown rates of other metropolitan U.S. cities.
Motorists parking in Humboldt Park, South Shore or Albany Park pay the same or more than people parking in downtown Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose, the nation's fourth through 10th most populated cities.
"I don't like it, I'm not a fan," said Jordan Williams. "I think the money should to to paving streets and not LAZ Parking [the company that manages operations for Chicago Parking Meters]."
"I think it's ridiculous, and I do this for a living," said Rich Ayala, 24, an Albany Park resident who works as a parking lot attendant. "Just yesterday I went to get a haircut, and it costs me $1.75 for 50 minutes."
"You can't stop it, because you have no choice now. You gotta pay," he said.
As in previous years, parking meter crews will begin the rate changeover of pay boxes in the Loop, where parking is most expensive, and work outward into the neighborhoods. The entire transition will take several weeks to update the more than 4,000 pay boxes throughout the city.
LAZ Parking declined repeated requests for comment.