How is Chicago collecting over a billion in unpaid tickets? (Hint: It’s not.)

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CHICAGO -- While red light cameras took center stage during the elections, the real story may not be those rampant tickets but the money behind them.

So many complaints have been lodged about Chicago’s heavy handed ticketing. But just what are the numbers and how much was the city pulling in from parking and camera tickets?

The city of Chicago has over a billion dollars in unpaid tickets dating back over a decade. So while Chicago has this tough stance on ticketing, there's a disconnect when it comes to collecting that revenue.

"The biggest shock is the size of the debt and if you combine the speed camera, the red light camera and the parking ticket debt, it's 1.7 billion dollars,” Mike Brockway, Publisher of The Expired Meter.

The huge debt leaves Brockway wondering how a city so desperate for revenue not have the muscle to collect on it?

"We have all this outstanding debt and it makes you start thinking well, what is the city doing wrong?" he asks.

Susan Hofer from the city's Dept of Finance issued a written statement to WGN saying, "Nearly 70% of the debt cited was generated before Mayor Emanuel took office. Even so, since Mayor Emanuel implemented the local debt recovery program in conjunction with the state of Illinois in 2011, we have increased the collection of debt of five years and older by 86%".

Under Mayor Emanuel, the city has pulled in over $17 million dollars in unpaid tickets, a big uptick from years prior. But the newly implemented payment plans have largely failed. The numbers provided by the city show four out of every five payment plans that are set up default.

"$270 million dollars of defaulted payment plans and only about $35-36 million are staying on time and making their payments," Brockway said.

While city council members continue cutting back, documents show the debt continues to grow at a pace of $1 million dollar a week. That trumps the combined ticket debt of both Los Angeles and New York City, even though both cities issue more tickets.

The difference seems to be enforcement. In L.A., you can't renew your car registration without paying all outstanding tickets. New York will throw a boot on your car if a ticket isn't paid within 100 days. In Chicago, you aren't boot eligible until you've racked up at least three unpaid tickets.

A spokesman from the Dept. of Finance confirmed that the city has been working for months on new initiatives that will be introduced to the city council. But some aldermen aren’t aware of this huge revenue hole. And sure enough, those red light tickets only account for a sliver of the debt.

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5 comments

  • Andrew

    The City is subjectively choosing which ordinances they’re enforcing and which ones they’re not due to additional revenue. Case in point: Chicago Code 9-64-180: “… Except as provided in subsection (b), it is unlawful to park any vehicle during the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for days established as holidays in Section 9-4-010 on any of the following streets: … Wacker Drive, from Franklin Street to Van Buren Street.” (I removed the other streets to emphasize the violation of parking on North/South Wacker.)

  • aroberts

    the city is scamming the people in the city of Chicago, some of these tickets are received unfairly like the one I received for not having the sticker on the windshield I had the sticker before the deadline and proof of purchase but to protest would cost me just a much as the ticket I asked for a payment plan they told me I had to wait until the ticket doubled which I did but the they told me when I returned I did not need a payment plan now they keep increasing and increasing the amount of the ticket even though I paid part of the ticket bogus!!!!!

  • Jonathan Smith

    PARKING TICKETS The New Noose,For the Poor,I Own a Car but moved out of State,Putting a ticket on a car every 2 hours,is Gangster,No stand park time in a residential area,Stealing while you’re sleeping.