CHICAGO — For the past few years, city parking meter enforcement crews have had a private team of ticket writers helping them do their jobs — and helping fill the city's coffers with millions of dollars in additional revenues.
The team actually works for Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the private company that took over control of the city's 36,000 metered-parking spaces in the infamous 75-year deal that jacked up parking rates and lengthened the hours of enforcement all over the city.
But part of the deal the company made with the city gave it the right to help enforce the meters — by writing more tickets than the cash-strapped city's own parking enforcers could do otherwise.
In fact, the company has very quietly issued hundreds of thousands of tickets for expired meter violations since 2010, city parking data obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows.
Meter teams working for Chicago Parking Meters now write nearly one-third of all tickets issued citywide for expired meter violations, the data shows.
A company spokesman said the private crew actually works for LAZ Parking, which Chicago Parking Meters contracts to maintain and enforce the meters.
"LAZ, which performs the same type of work for jurisdictions throughout the country, has served as the operator since 2009 and employs staff that issue parking tickets," said Chicago Parking Meters spokesman Scott Burnham. He did not say how many people made up the enforcement team.
Under the parking meter lease contract, CPM is allowed to only write tickets for meter violations, but not any other type of parking ticket. The goal is to spur compliance, and not generate fines, officials said.
"As specified in the concession agreement, CPM has the authority to only issue tickets for non-payment, or expired meter violations, not for other parking violations, such as parking in a loading zone parking, near a hydrant, or illegally in a designated permitted parking zone," Burnham said. "The goal of enforcement is to drive compliance, not to write tickets. The concession agreement clearly states enforcement is for compliance."
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), perhaps the parking meter deal's harshest critic and one of the few dissenting City Council votes back in 2008, thinks this could be a positive aspect of the privatized meters as long as CPM ticket writers are not overzealous in their enforcement efforts.
"The question is whether we're doing it to write as many tickets as possible, to squeeze maximum revenue from drivers, or if we're doing it because the city is genuinely concerned with people violating the law," Waguespack said. "If it's the latter than yes, this is one of the few positive aspects of the meter lease deal."
It's unclear how much bigger the team of ticket writers is since the company started helping the city with enforcement. Company officials did not say how many people help enforce the meters, but city officials said records show 32 ticket writers are employed by CPM.
City officials, meanwhile, declined multiple requests for comment. But the city's 2014 budget calls for 54 parking enforcement aide and field supervisor positions, plus an additional 1,272 enforcement aide positions hired on a monthly basis.
Whatever the case, data shows enforcement teams working for Chicago Parking Meters have wracked up a lot of tickets: 318,215 between August 2010 and September 2013.
Based on the minimum fine for such a violation — $50 — that total of tickets would have raised about $15.9 million in revenue for the city — a number that does not include the revenue from late fees or additional collection or interest fees. However, it's possible some of those fines weren't issued if they were successfully contested in court.
In 2012 alone, the private enforcers wrote 123,884 tickets, which accounted for 30 percent of all expired meter violations and more than 5 percent of the 2.4 million all parking tickets issued for that year.
While parking enforcement personnel working on behalf of Chicago Parking Meters are paid by the company, they have to go through a mandatory training process to ensure they are writing tickets properly.
"As far as the training goes, that is also outlined in the operating standards of the concession agreement, but, yes, CPM is required to follow the City's training methodology," Burnham said.