Emanuel: Parking meter deal makes ‘lemonade out of a big lemon’

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced new changes Monday to Chicago’s controversial parking meter contract.

Before he left office, Mayor Richard Daley leased the city’s parking meters to a private company. Emanuel has long blamed the rising cost of street parking on lack of oversight, and went back to the bargaining table with Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.

“Let’s be clear here. This does not solve our parking meter problem. That’s just not possible. I’m trying to make a little lemonade out of a big lemon,” Emanuel said.

CPM still has 71 years left of the contract but Mayor Emanuel has been holding up payments on some invoices claiming the bills were unjustified. So, CPM has struck a new deal softening some aspects of the contract, which some alderman say is better than nothing.

“I think today makes a bad deal better. I believe that we were getting to the point that the only options were default or try to rescind the contract — pay the $1 billion back to the parking meter company,” said Ald. Howard Brooking, Jr., 21st Ward.

Paying $1 billion back would be tough because the city has already spent the money. Even so, Emanuel was able to get some relaxation of the terms of the contract which he says amount to $20 million in savings per year over the remaining 71-years which would be over a billion dollars in savings. Plus there are other modifications to the contract:

“Free Sundays in our neighborhoods, a new pay by cell option throughout the city, a settlement of unpaid bills on my desk for future payments worth a little more than a billion dollars to Chicago taxpayers and numerous other changes to the contract,” Emanuel said.

In exchange for free parking on Sundays, Chicagoans parking at most metered spots in the city will need to pay until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday as opposed to 9 p.m. now. People parking in the River North neighborhood will need to pay for an extra three hours Monday through Saturday, extending the required meter time until midnight.

Spots where parkers currently have to pay until 6 p.m. will not see the meter hours extended under the deal, Emanuel said.

Also under the deal Emanuel announced, drivers will be able to pay via cell phone to park at a meter, but will need to pay a convenience charge of 35 cents for each purchase of up to two hours. That technology should be in place by summer 2014, according to the mayor’s office.

The proposal will be presented to the full City Council next week for approval.

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

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