Blood from a parking meter

Cities grappling with budget holes are turning to drivers for extra revenue. That means privatized parking, longer meter hours, no more free Sundays and much stricter parking meter enforcement. Many businesses and residents are ticked off. In at least one case, there's been physical violence.

Let's begin with the parking situation in Chicago. It is no less than a political disaster:

The mayor won City Council approval of privatizing the city's parking meters in a 40-5 vote last year. A 75-year contract was awarded to Chicago Parking Meters LLC in February for $1.15 billion.

The city said the money from the sale would help balance the municipal budget and bolster Chicago's financial reserves.

Since then, the deal has caused the mayor and the council major grief, as independent analysts and the inspector general said the city sold the meter rights for far less than they were worth, and drivers decried dramatic meter price increases and problems with broken or dysfunctional meters.

Some people took out their anger on the parking meters themselves.

So, last month, Mayor Richard Daley proposed giving each Chicago driver a single get-out-of-a-ticket card per year. It would only apply if the driver was late by five minutes or less. The gesture was met by even more anger:

Igor Stamenkovic works in Chicago and parks on Wabash Avenue near Adams Street. He has to make frequent trips to his car to avoid parking fines.

"Walk with me, otherwise I will get a ticket," he said. As he fed the parking pay box, he said Daley's proposed grace period "doesn't make sense."

Stamenkovic said Daley allowed increases in meter prices and more metered hours in the day, then said, "'I'll give you five minutes.'"

"I think it's ridiculous," Stamenkovic said.

Here in Los Angeles, many parking meters now operate two hours longer, until 8pm. The city is also considering the privatization of several parking garages:

"This is a critical piece of our strategy to maintain the city's financial standing and credit rating," said City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget analyst at City Hall. Santana made the recommendation with Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, the council's budget analyst...

Unlike in Chicago, Santana and Miller are not recommending privatizing city parking meters -- that would probably face fierce opposition by some council members. They also call for L.A. to retain authority over parking rates at the garages, although parking costs would almost certainly increase.

In San Francisco, officials are considering charging for parking on Sundays as a way to avoid cuts in the public transportation budget. That seems like a reasonable compromise. But in Oakland, people are upset because it appears new parking meters could cost more to install than the revenue they will generate.

And in Toledo, Ohio, downtown parking meters are literally causing fights. From the Toledo Blade:

Ahmad Mahmoud, owner of the Hat Trick Bar and Grill... said he was temporarily closing his bar most nights of the week after a ParkSmart employee punched him in the face.

That occurred, he admitted, after he spit in the parking officer's face after what Mr. Mahmoud said was one too many parking tickets in front of his business.

Even though they haven't started fights with ParkSmart employees, several other downtown business owners say the downtown parking authority is driving them, and their customers, a bit crazy.

A Toledo bookstore closed last month, citing in part the relentless parking enforcement.

It's pretty predictable that cities would try to generate more revenue from parking, but at what cost? Businesses closing? Citizens vandalizing meters (and each other)?

Having almost gotten into a fight once with a mean-spirited LA parking officer, I can attest to the nerve this strikes with people. And when it appears that cities are reaching into the pockets of their financially-struggling citizens, it's not surprising there's blood on the sidewalk.

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