Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Aldermanic Angst Over Parking Meter Ripoffs

As Chicagoans' outrage over the parking meter privatization disaster continues to boil, and aldermen are feeling considerable political heat. Clout City's Mick Dumke calls the situation "surreal":

This morning, five and a half months after the City Council signed off on the deal, angry aldermen accused the private firms* that now run the meter system of cheating Chicago drivers, and some even demanded that city lawyers determine whether the contract can be terminated. They vowed to take the matter up again once they have more information—including copies of the contract itself, which incredibly they still haven’t seen.
(Clout City managed to "see" the contracts. You can, too, when you read Mick Dumke's article. The links to PDF's are in the third paragraph.) The privatization resulted in an increase in rates requiring drivers to insert 28 quarters to park for a couple of hours. (That's $28.00 to park for an 8 hour day - 114 quarters. Any idea what that weighs?) That's outrageous enough, but the costs didn't stop there.

Malfunctioning meters resulted in parking tickets that add another fifty bucks to the cost of parking for an hour. (Some contested the obviously unfair fine, and discovered that fighting resulted in no satisfaction at double the cost. Horror story here.) The issue of unfair ticketing was one shuttlecock in the game of blame-badminton that took place at Monday's meeting:
Aldermen interrogated the company officials about why people had been ticketed for trying to feed meters that couldn’t take all the quarters fed into them, why labels on the meters didn’t match their actual rates, and what the firms had done to learn about the system before jacking the rates up.

Company officials chalked up most of the problems to the number, age, and design of the meters, saying they weren’t prepared for all the maintenance and logistical problems that they encountered—essentially what they’d “admitted” before.
Oh, but that wasn't the only problem.
Aldermanic frustration turned to furor when Dennis Pedrelli, CEO of Chicago Parking Meters, and Alan Lazowski, chairman and CEO of LAZ Parking, admitted that some meters had only given people seven minutes for a quarter instead of the seven and a half minutes advertised--then dismissed the issue as no big deal. [Emphasis added.]
Well, of course it is a big deal, because meters that expire earlier than expected result in more tickets. Why, that's almost like getting half of the services you pay taxes for because of the cost of patronage and corruption - albeit on a smaller scale. But at the moment, aldermen are not very frustrated about that.

Fran Spielman wrote about this meeting, too, in an article ironically titled "Chicago aldermen argue city got 'gypped' in privatization of parking meters." I'm sure Spielman knows that the citizens were ripped off as well, and that only heavy political pressure would bring our alleged representatives to admit that:
"You took my money, and you took the money of at least 5,800 Chicagoans. That's what you did. And when you knew the meters did not work, you continued to take our money. That is fraud. That is a deceptive business practice, sir," said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), urging "restitution" for motorists who were similarly "gypped."

Ald. Manny Flores (1st) urged the Law Department to investigate whether Chicago Parking Meters LLC violated the contract's severability clause by keeping the city in the dark about the downtown problem.

"Chicagoans have been shortchanged. You were aware they were shortchanged. You undertook your own method of remediation. ... The contract was not followed. ... They're supposed to be in constant communication with us. That clearly didn't happen," Flores said.
So, as usual, nobody knew nuthin'. They didn't know about the contract, but slammed the deal through. They didn't know that citizens were "shortchanged", or unfairly ticketed. I do believe, though, that Mr. Flores and his aldermanic cohorts are deeply concerned and anxious, alright - but only about one thing: when Chicagoans say they're looking for change, maybe this time they don't mean 28 bucks in quarters.

*The private firms in question are Chicago Parking Meters and LAZ Parking. Morgan Stanley, the primary investor, created CPM to carry out the management of meters, and LAZ was contracted to oversee daily operations.

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