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Parking Meter Deal Revisions Saving City Tens of Millions of Dollars: City

By Mike Brockway | May 8, 2014 6:36am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel's revision of the controversial parking meter deal is saving the city tens of millions of dollars, data released by the mayor's office show.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's revision of the controversial parking meter deal is saving the city tens of millions of dollars, data released by the mayor's office show.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

THE LOOP — Mayor Rahm Emanuel's revision of the controversial parking meter deal is saving the city tens of millions of dollars, figures released by the mayor's office show.

Meanwhile, a change in state law that greatly limited which disabled drivers can park for free at the meters could also save the city a bundle, city officials say.

According to data based on audited financial statements filed by Chicago Parking Meters late last week, the amount of money the city must pay the meter operator when meters are taken out of commission — known as "true up" payments — has dropped dramatically since the revised deal went into effect last June.

Since that time, the city paid CPM $6.6 million in "true up" payments, or an average of $1.65 million per quarter.

In the five quarters preceding the revised deal, the payments averaged $10.2 million per quarter.

"The audited financial statements are proof that the settlement negotiated by Mayor Emanuel in 2013 had real value, and that not one tax dollar is being paid that doesn't need to be paid, " said Department of Finance spokesperson Kelley Quinn. " ... A very bad deal has been made a little less bad."

Bills for "true up" payments from CPM began going through the roof in 2012, which set off a heated dispute between City Hall and the company over how the contract's legal language should be interpreted.

The dispute was ultimately resolved with a revised meter contract that was approved by the City Council last June despite skepticism by several aldermen.

The savings came in part because the revision limits how much the city is on the hook for when metered spaces are permanently removed for changes to a street, like adding loading zones or bus stops. The revision made it easier for the city to add metered spots in other locations to make up for the loss in money from the removed meters.

"The single greatest story is the issue of 'true up,' " said one city official. "It wasn't magically going away. The contract was open to interpretation. But now the 'true up' problem is under control."

Even Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the most vocal critic of the original lease deal and who opposed other parts of the mayor's revisions, was pleased with the news.

 Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton and Mayor Rahm Emanuel listen to alderman discuss the revised parking meter lease before its passage last spring.
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton and Mayor Rahm Emanuel listen to alderman discuss the revised parking meter lease before its passage last spring.
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The Expired Meter.com

"It's a good thing to see that number go down," Waguespack said.

In addition, the city says it's receiving more money from utility companies and construction crews who take meters temporarily out of commission for their work. Under the contract, the city has to reimburse CPM for the loss of use from those meters.

The city received $2.6 million in fees in those instances in 2013, up from $2.2 million in 2012. The city says that increase was due to improved collections.

In addition to the savings negotiated by the mayor, the city expects to save money because of a crackdown on disabled parkers.

As of Jan. 1, a new law limited the number of disabled drivers that qualify for free metered parking. 

Before the law went into effect, CPM's financial documents show, the city paid the company $21.5 million to compensate them for parking by cars with disabled placards.

City officials say initial data from the first quarter of this year shows a dramatic decline in the number of disabled drivers who are able to park for free.

The city only has to reimburse CPM if the total number of spaces used by disabled parkers exceeds 6 percent of all spaces by the end of the year. So far officials say the number is so low it's possible a very small payment, or no payment at all, will be due to CPM at the end of the year.

Overall, CPM's financial statement shows a $4 million drop in total revenue, from $139.5 million in 2012 to $134.6 million in 2013.

But revenues exclusively from parking meters are up nearly 10 percent, from $91.3 million in 2012 to $99.5 million in 2013. The spike in revenue came after meter rates went up in 2013, resulting in the city having the most expensive Downtown meters in the country at $6.50 an hour.

And overall, the company more than doubled its profits from $20.5 million in 2012 to $43.5 million in 2013.

Chicago Parking Meters officials declined to comment.

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