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New Parking Meter Deal Could Net $360M for Private Operator, Aldermen Say

By Mike Brockway | May 31, 2013 6:07am | Updated on May 31, 2013 8:55am
 Aldermen Scott Waguespack (from l), Brendan Reilly, Ameya Pawar and Bob Fioretti are four of the nine members of the City Council's Chicago Progressive Reform Coalition.
Aldermen Scott Waguespack (from l), Brendan Reilly, Ameya Pawar and Bob Fioretti are four of the nine members of the City Council's Chicago Progressive Reform Coalition.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — A revised parking meter deal could result in a $360 million windfall for the private company operating the meters, several aldermen say.

The draft report by the City Council's nine-member Chicago Progressive Reform Coalition claims that contrary to estimates from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration, the deal could wind up resulting in as much as $9 million a year in extra revenue for Chicago Parking Meters, the private company that runs the meters.

The City Council Finance Committee will continue to debate the measure Friday.

This would result in additional revenue of as much as $360 million for Chicago Parking Meters over the remaining 71 years of the agreement privatizing the city's meters than what is being touted by the mayor's office. Even the report's most conservative estimates find the company would make millions of dollars more than the city projects.

The bulk of that money could come from a provision extending parking meter hours in River North by three hours and in other areas by one hour. That comes in exchange for providing free parking on Sundays, although drivers would still have to pay meters in an area bordered by North Avenue, Halsted Street, Roosevelt Road and the lakefront.

The report claims the city chose numbers in its estimates that would show less revenue going to Chicago Parking Meters than what is likely. The city has said losing Sunday revenue would cost the company more than $8 million, but extending hours on some meters would raise slightly more than $7 million.

More specifically, while the mayor’s office estimates the 3,217 metered spaces in River North would generate $807,000 in the hours between 10 p.m. and midnight next year, the report estimates the revenue would range from $3.5 to $5.2 million. The city said Chicago Parking Meters would generate an additional $2,200 in River North every evening from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m., while the aldermen's analysis estimates revenue at $10,000 to $14,000 a night for those two hours. 

"They don't want to show us the real deal because it would be a bad one for the city," said 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack.

"They're doing the same thing that happened in 2008" when Mayor Richard Daley pushed through the original, highly criticized deal in just 72 hours, Waguespack said.

For example, even though Chicago Parking Meters turned over data on more than 120 million parking meter transactions over the last four years, the city's revenue study for extending the payment hours only includes data from three months of a single year: April, August and November. Waguespack said the city cherry-picked these particular months to keep estimates of potential profits to Chicago Parking Meters low.

In addition, during Finance Committee hearings earlier this week, it came out that the modeling for estimating future meter usage and revenue for extending River North metered parking three hours until midnight was based on only 39 metered parking spaces on Oak Street. During two days of hearings, several alderman said such a limited analysis did not accurately represent parking conditions in River North.

"I'm still concerned about the free Sundays-extended hours trade-off," said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th). While he supports another part of the deal — a settlement over lost revenue to Chicago Parking Meters due to street closures that the city claims could save taxpayers $1 billion — he said Chicago Parking Meters is going to make money in other ways.

"Two-thirds of what you've done is brilliant, but I'm concerned they're going to make it up on the back end," he said.

The city's chief financial officer, Lois Scott, admitted estimates are never perfect, but she said at the hearings she was confident the city's numbers are close, and that estimates coming from the progressive caucus are exaggerated.

"Will the estimates be off from the true numbers?" asked Scott. "Of course. Will it be millions more? Highly unlikely."

Waguespack said he's had difficulty getting more data since the revised deal was announced April 29.

"That's the frustration with this thing," he said. "They put a bunch of numbers on paper but have no substance to back it up. They have all the data they need, but wasted 30 days and didn't get us any information."

"I think it just gets more and more confusing," said 2nd Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti when asked about the numbers coming out of the mayor's office. "It doesn't make any sense."