Report: Chicago issued 35,000 tickets amid confusion over enforcement suspension at start of pandemic

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Many of those waiting to contest parking tickets Monday said they were under the impression ticketing was on hold during the first month of the pandemic, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot says that was never the case.

As layoffs started and budgets tightened in homes across the city in March, Lightfoot told residents there would be some brief relief from tickets, one of Chicago’s most annoying expenses.   

“We have suspended many of the debt collection, ticketing and impound practices that the City engages in until April 30,” Lightfoot said on March 18. “We are limiting ticketing, towing and impounding of vehicles to public safety issues.”

But an analysis by the Chicago Tribune shows 35,000 tickets were issued amid the so-called “coronavirus suspension.”   

Gary Smith of Ravenswood Manor said he was “furious” as he waited to contest his parking tickets Monday. He said he parked on a downtown street April 1 while he went to work at his law firm, under the impression ticketing would be suspended until April 30.   

“I parked on the street, because there was no enforcement at the time – I believed,” Smith said. 

The mayor’s office says she never intended to allow free street parking, but instead parking enforcement was supposed to focus more on public safety than on expired meters.  On March 25, Lightfoot clarified the suspension did not mean “free parking all over the city.”

“So I think some people thought that what we announced last week meant, they thought that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay the meter. You do,” Lightfoot said.

Smith said he was told he had to pay the $70 ticket because of the mayor’s clarification.

“I knew of no such announcement. It was not nearly as public as the first one,” Smith said.

Shawn Cobb of Uptown said he also never heard the mayor’s clarification. If anything, he said he’s been ticketed more often during the pandemic, saying he’s received a half dozen parking tickets since April.  

“My first ticket was April 20 and it’s just been nonstop,” Cobb said. “It’s too much to pay with them all being due at once.”

Cab driver Khalid Javed said he got two tickets during the period, which he thought he didn’t have to pay.  

“We request the mayor please consider this one and help people, people who have tickets,” Javed said.

In a written statement, a spokeswoman said the mayor clarified the initial remarks several times in public statements that were reported by the media:

“(The Mayor) made explicitly clear that ticketing is continuing during the pandemic and reiterated there would be an emphasis on public safety reasons. To make it even more clear to reporters, the Mayor again explicitly stated that this does not mean that there is ‘free parking all over the city.’ On top of that, the Mayor stated that residents will continue to have to feed the meter during this time.”

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