Privatized meters don't make sense

Failed parking meter at night

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: In Chicago, the cost of parking has as much as quadrupled since the city leased control of its meters to a private company. The deal is raising questions about when it makes sense to privatize public services and when it doesn't. From Chicago Public Radio, Adriene Hill reports.


Adriene Hill: If you want to hear Chicago drivers get all worked up, just ask them about parking meters.

Hill: There looks like it's $3.50 an hour though, what do you think about that?

Stanley King: Oh, that's absurd!

That's Stanley King. He's parking a silver Lexus in Chicago's downtown and trying to figure out how to use one of the new parking meters.

King: I only need a half an hour, and that's what, $1.75? Seven quarters, how many did I bring . . .

He calls city's rush to privatize a joke. And drivers aren't the only ones expressing frustration with the deal -- for which the city was paid nearly $1.2 billion.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's been called out by the city inspector general for rushing the contract that gives control of the meters away for 75 years. But Daley stands by it. He says the money he's made leasing out pieces of the city's infrastructure is essential to Chicago's financial health.

Richard Daley: Now if we didn't have these, if I didn't have the Skyway deal, the parking garages, the parking meters, we'd be in terrible positions.

In addition to leasing some of the city's tollways and parking structures, Daley's also pushed to privatize Midway Airport -- in a deal that fell through at the last minute because of the collapse in the credit market.

It's a rush to sell that Columbia University economist Elliott Sclar calls shortsighted:

Elliott Sclar: You have a government that doesn't want to deal with the question of raising taxes to provide services. So it's essentially, it's a short-run expedient. After they've sold everything off, what do they do in the second year? What's the next act?

Hill: Do members of the public ever benefit from these privatization deals in terms, I mean do fees actually ever go down when infrastructure is privatized?

Sclar: I . . . conceptually anything can happen, but I'm not aware of it.

Sclar says he thinks we'll start seeing a move away from cities and states selling their assets to private companies as the public starts to realize there are things the government can -- and should -- do well.

In Chicago, I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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