Global Parking Story in Booster Newspaper
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Booster Editor Jessica Pupovac does a great job covering the issue from all sides.
Private booting company draws ire in 32nd Ward
By Jessica Pupovac – Editor
Ald. Scott Waugespack (32nd Ward) has put Global Parking Management on probation.
Last month, the freshman alderman threatened to expel the parking lot security firm from his ward after receiving a rash of complaints alleging rude service, unscrupulous charges and sometimes hostile staff, particularly at two of the many locations the company operates at in his ward: Village Discount Outlet at 2043 W. Roscoe and Burger King at 2344 W. Chicago Ave.
But then, he changed his tune and decided to invite them to the table.
“I pulled the removal of their services from the ward for the time being so that we could give them an opportunity to devise better management of the lots they are booting on,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If we have further incidents, they would be subject to suspension from the ward.”
Waugespack did not return multiple calls requesting more details on his constituents’ complaints and why he changed his mind.
Global Parking Management is a 10-year-old, Chicago-based private booting company that guards private lots throughout Chicago. The only one of its kind licensed to operate within the city, the company is brought in by business owners looking to guard their private lots from people who do not patronize their establishments and to punish drivers who leave their vehicles behind and wander into neighboring shops.
Global Parking does not charge its clients; the company’s only revenue comes from fines levied against violators.
Joe Grillo, part owner of Global Parking, admits that his is a company people love to hate but, he says, “there is a need for it. We wouldn’t be in business if there wasn’t.”
“It’s not an easy job. Nobody wants to get ticketed or towed or booted,” he said. “But having a parking lot is a luxury, and it is a very expensive one. For these people who own these businesses, if you park and then go into another business, that spot might not be there when one of their own customers needs it. You are basically stealing that parking spot away from that business owner.”
Global Parking Management’s clients include about 40 stores throughout the city, with most located on the North Side.
At places like Village Discount, he said, where customers might spend hours on end at the store only to spend a few dollars, Global Parking’s services are vital.
“That lot doesn’t even give them enough space to accommodate their own customers, much less other customers in the area,” he said.
But many residents whose cars have been at the receiving end of Global’s enforcement tactics disagree. Many drivers interviewed for this story complained of feeling bullied by attendants and being unaware of their infraction until it was abruptly brought to their attention. Most of them did say they had wandered away from the stores that own the lots in which they parked – but sometimes, they said, only in order to complete their transactions.
Wicker Park attorney Karen Moran went to the Az Zenith Currency Exchange at 1934 W North Ave. in mid-December to renew her license sticker. She said that when she was told that the currency exchange only accepts cash, she told the teller she needed to go across the street to an ATM.
“She didn’t say anything about the lot,” says Moran. “I was gone for five minutes and I got booted in that amount of time.”
Moran says that the teller could have warned her.
“I just felt like I was in a typical Chicago gotcha situation. I was trying to do what I thought was right and get my license plate renewed, but I just felt scammed,” she said. “I understand that they don’t like people parking in their lot when they are going into a club or what have you, but I was just using their services and I felt ripped off.”
Moran says she was on her way to pick up her children from school, so she signed the paperwork, paid and went on her way. She said she was given a customer’s bill of rights, but was forced to sign away her rights in order to get her car back and pick up her kids on time.
Moran contacted the Better Business Bureau and filed a complaint, which is still pending. She’s not alone. According to the Better Business Bureau’s Web site, the consumer protection and business accreditation organization has processed 70 complaints against the company in the past 36 months. They rank Global Parking’s record as “unsatisfactory.”
The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Licensing has even more violations recorded. According to Efrat Stein, a spokeswoman with the department, 70 residents have filed complaints regarding Global Parking Management since the beginning of 2008 and have initiated administrative hearings. Even more have been filed and never followed up on. She encourages people who feel they have been wrongly booted to call 311 and file a complaint. However, she added, “I think it’s logical to try to work with the business first.”
Grillo says that Global Parking processes its own appeals and regularly issues refunds for drivers who may have been wrongly booted. He was unable to provide exact figures, but said that employees record their interactions with drivers and that those recordings are kept on file in the event of an appeal.
Overall, he says, people need to realize that the boot is ultimately “a softer, more effective approach for both the businesses owner and driver.
“It costs practically half the towing fee, and you don’t have to trek across town to pick up your car. You can pay on the spot.
“People get upset that they have to pay that fee, but I think it’s a lesson learned.”
Since Global began operations, some ordinances have been passed to increase oversight and guarantee customer rights, but some say there might still be room for improvement.
Denise Poelsterl, office director at Ald. Tom Tunney’s office (44th Ward) says that Tunney supported a move to require Global to issue a customer’s bill of rights to drivers after a boot, but acknowledged that even more public education might help quell some of the continuing conflicts.
“People are not aware of how it works, until it’s too late, unfortunately,” she said. “They don’t understand the booting process and why it’s allowed. People think that they can leave the property, they only ran across the street to Starbucks for a few minutes.”
She said she understands the need for Global’s services in places like Lake View and Roscoe Village, where “parking is at a premium,” but said that the issue is one of public education.
“If Global Parking Management did better public education, or if someone stepped up to the plate and did some better education about this entire process-how it works, what are the repercussions-I think if people actually knew what it was all about, there would be less problems,” she said.
Some of the reforms that Waugespack is encouraging would be for Global’s attendants to be more proactive in informing people of their policies, rather than counting on them to read the signs on display. He also would require attendants to wear bright yellow jackets so that they don’t take residents by surprise, as well as install gates or some sort of marker to differentiate the lot.
But too much warning could ultimately cut into profits.
The company, right now, is doing well. Grillo says they have never lost a customer and that his operation now has about 35 employees. The owners have expanded into other operations and now run a successful business in Wicker Park, where they sell fruit cut into floral shapes.
Meanwhile, at least one freshman alderman, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) is leaning in the opposite direction: Since he took office, Reilly has moved to include his ward in the list of fewer than a dozen where Global Parking is allowed to operate.