The World’s Loneliest Parking Meters

Over $400,000 Invested In Meters Where No Cars Park

One of 72 newly installed multi-space parking meter stands lonely and unused in a desolate area of the South Side

Nostalgic types might consider it a sad day when the last of Chicago’s old fashioned single head parking meters got replaced in late spring in a desolate section of the near South Side.

Chicago Parking Meters, LLC recently installed over 70 pay and display machines in June, after removing the city’s last remaining single head meters a few weeks previous. But the area, roughly bounded by Ashland & Damen, between 15th and 13th has plenty of spaces to park, but with no one actually parking there.

But perhaps what is most interesting is that CPM was forced to spend over $400,000 to install expensive, cutting edge parking meter pay boxes for several thousand metered spaces, in an area that will never generate enough revenue for CPM to ever see a return on their investment there.

Lease Deal Says CPM Must Upgrade All Parking Meters

One of the few upsides to the Chicago’s universally reviled parking meter lease deal was that the new lessee for the city’s 36,000+ metered parking system must replace all the old fashioned single head meters with multispace payboxes.

The city insisted in the privatization agreement that these new payboxes allowed drivers to pay using debit and credit cards in addition to quarters and in some cases dollar coins.

Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners or Chicago Parking Meters, LLC as they are now known, did not have to replace all the single head meters right away. They were given time to make sure all metered spaces had this electronic payment option.

Impressively, CPM via LAZ Parking, switched over the majority of the system in just a few months back in 2009.

However, a handful of single head meters still existed until just recently.

This was made apparent in June, when CPM removed a few thousands of single head meters near the University of Illinois Medical District.

For some logic defying reason, the city installed these meters along blocks and blocks of vacant lots in 2008 where perhaps a car or two would park over the course of a day. Allegedly, the meters kept people from abandoning cars in this forlorn area completely devoid of homes, people, buildings, businesses or any sort of commerce.

And why would anyone pay for parking when the metered blocks are surrounded by several blocks where payment is not required?

Nobody Parking…Ever

Despite the parking meters, no cars ever seem to be parked in this essentially deserted area, but there was no way to objectively measure meter usage–until the new pay and display units were installed.

So, The Expired Meter decided to try an experiment.

The payboxes print out a receipt for each transaction that must be displayed on a vehicle’s dashboard to prove the driver has paid for parking. On each receipt a sequential transaction number prints out to further validate payment has occurred.

On June 13th, three pay boxes were randomly selected. One on 14th Street close to Damen, another on Wood Street, and a final pay box on 14th Street closer to Ashland Avenue.

In each, a quarter was deposited and a meter receipt was generated. Since the units had just been installed, each receipt displayed a very low number. The number 003 was listed on two of the receipts and 005 on a third. The assumption was the previous few transactions were test prints made by the technician(s) who installed the units.

Over five weeks later, we returned and repeated the quarter plunking process on the same three machines.

Incredibly, what all three receipts showed was not one other driver had paid for parking at all three meters in the subsequent five weeks. In fact, the last two transactions at all three meters were made by our research team.

Our researchers also determined that no less than 72 pay boxes were recently installed in this general area, with essentially no vehicles paying to use the metered spaces.

Consider that on the low end, these pay boxes manufactured by Florida based Cale Parking USA cost $6000 each. Multiply it out and conservatively  CPM spent about $430,000 for these 72 pay boxes.

These parking meter pay boxes see so little use, if each of the 72 pay boxes bring in a dollar a month, it will take close to 500 years to see a cover the out of pocket expense for the units. Even if you generously calculate the revenue at $1.50 per machine per week, the 75 year long lease would be over before these meters actually made a return on investment.

Perhaps this is a case of one of the few upsides Mayor Daley’s  hated parking meter lease deal. At least the taxpayers are not on the hook for this close to half million dollar outlay–at least not directly.

This website reached out via email to CPM’s spokesperson to find out why the company would invest so heavily in erecting expensive parking meters in an area where no one parks, but received no response.

So, while Chicago drivers have to endure the daily and painful reminder of how terrible Chicago’s parking meter lease deal turned out, perhaps some drivers will get a tiny bit of satisfaction from seeing the immense cash outlay for the world’s loneliest parking meters.

31 Responses to The World’s Loneliest Parking Meters

  1. Look Deeper says:

    They just did this to meet the contract’s specifications. They don’t care…they are making money hand over foot everywhere else!

  2. SG says:

    I think they likely more than make up for the loss with the $4/hour parking spots downtown that are always full.

  3. lordB8r says:

    what i don’t get is why the company gets away with not removing the old meters, but instead slaps cheap stickers on them saying, “left for the convenience of cyclists”…wtf?!? there are plent of other places to lock my bike to. i think this is just a scam and a cheap way to save money…

  4. Pete says:

    The only thing good about the parking meter scam is that there are actually spots available at many of these meters. In the old days when Chicago ran the meters and charged $1 an hour or whatever low price it was, there were never any spots available. Office workers could just come down every few hours and drop a couple more quarters in the slot and be good for the day. Luckily that practice has ended, even though Daley’s privatization deal was criminally stupid.

  5. Mark says:

    Does anyone know what the deal is with the old style meters still functioning along the museum campus drive that dead ends at the Adler Planetarium. I would have expected this area to be converted to new meters for the convenience of tourists, since they rarely bring enough quarters to cover the 3-10 hours that you can buy on these meters.

  6. Mr Downtown says:

    lordB8r, cycling advocates such as ATA (then called CBF) asked to have a meter or two each block left for us cyclists.

  7. Jennifer Walt says:

    Interesting experiment, but things won’t be changing. This entire IMD area is in a catatonic state, waiting for some outside investment. Also you probably knew this but it’s misleading to label the area as “south side” in your caption; geographically, it’s on the lower west side of the city.

  8. west side cyclist says:

    The only ones making money on this are the meter manufacturers. I bike through this area all the time [Ukrainian Village to Pilsen, and back] and before the electronic meters, there were hundreds of the old coin meters and never any vehicles. When people -do- park out there, they pull up on the grass under the trees and fire up the grill and have some beers. The coin meters all went up a mere few years ago, all at once like dandelions. So the city paid to have hundreds of coin meters that generated zero revenue. Then they [or LAZ] paid to have them all removed. And now you’ve got electronic meters around an area that is undeveloped, yet neither parkland. It’s nice open space, don’t get me wrong. And that begs another question – who owns it? And what will be done with it?

  9. Lynn Stevens says:

    lordB8r: Depends on what part of town you’re in. In my neck of the woods, the old meters are welcome and much needed bike parking, in fact we need more of them.

  10. Bob Foster says:

    Hey Geek,

    Wouldn’t a public records request to the city solve much of the mystery behind these metered spaces in the middle of nowhere? Namely, records on how much the city spent to buy and install them including labor costs and projections on how much revenue the city expected to receive from them? Some news articles mentioned that these meters where installed just a few months before the meter lease deal. My theory is that they needed to add them in order to meet the number of metered spaces in the lease.

  11. The Parking Ticket Geek says:


    You and I share the same theory on those meters. Its the only theory that makes sense.

    Looking into this is one of MANY items on my list of FOIA requests I need to make.

  12. DoR Employee says:

    Mike and Bob…

    Whenever Payboxes are Removed from anywhere in the City…under the terms of the lease, they must be placed somewhere else or a Fee has to be paid by the City to CPM.

    West Side Cyclist….What you describe sounds like a “Parkway.”

    That is Undeveloped but maintained land that is Owned by the City.
    Park/Stand on Parkway = 60.00 Fine

    Send Geek a Adress….like the Some-Hundred block of Pilsen or Cicero…and we can look that up to provide better info…

    But for clarity…All Land from the end of the Property line (building side of Sidewalk) to the Street Side of the Curb = City property.

  13. west side cyclist says:

    @ DoR Employee

    I know what a parkway is. And yes, there are sidewalks and parkways. And beyond the sidewalks are open space. Green, open space with trees and grass, some thicket in places, and no buildings whatsoever. The only real traffic is on 15th street for trucks to pick up containers from the BN rail transfer whose entrance is between Paulina and Wood at 15th [under the Pink Line]. From Ashland to Wood, and from the south side of 13th to 15th – a quarter square mile – there are no buildings and no real reason to park. Yet there were parking meters dotting all the streets every ten feet. And now there are electronic meter boxes. And I’ve -never- seen an unoccupied car parked there. [I say unoccupied because occasionally there appears to be some discreet lover's rock goin' on.....] And again it begs the question, why?

  14. DoR Employee says:

    Then it sounds like the CPD should be enforcing the ‘No Loitering/Crusing” rule..

  15. glg says:

    Mark – the meters on Solidarity between Adler and Shedd are on Park District land. Meters belong to the Park District and are not covered by the city’s lease. I want to say they’re managed by LAZ/CPM as well, but that’s through a separate management contract (not a lease like the city’s). You’ll find meters in a lot of the park land along the lake.

  16. west side cyclist says:

    DoR Employee say:

    “Then it sounds like the CPD should be enforcing the ‘No Loitering/Crusing” [sic] rule..”

    I’ll get right on that to CPD next time I ride through and [perhaps?] see anything. Unless of course you’d like to take the lead and regularly walk a citizen patrol to monitor things yourself. Regardless, thank you for the relevant reply.

    It’s not about CPD, it’s about why are there meters where no one parks? LAZ has to put the new meters wherever there were old ones. The City obviously doesn’t mind taking a loss [hell, they engineered a grifted giveaway to LAZ]. I’m sure LAZ doesn’t like taking a loss, but I’m betting they don’t care that they don’t earn enough revenue from these particular meters to cover their maintenance, as overall the whole giveaway was a great deal for them. My curiosity is why were the meters installed there in the first place, and who if anyone benefited from it?

  17. DoR Employee says:

    Loitering/Cruising are ANOV’s…we at Dpt Revenue don’t do ANOV’s…..yet.

    West Side…that was originally Asked and Answered.

    When Pay Boxes are Removed from ANYWHERE in Chicago…under the terms of the Lease, they have to be Replaced Somewhere else…or a Fee has to be paid.

    As for who benefited from them? Whatever area that was able to get Meters Removed benefited.

    People forget that 1 actual Benefit from having an area be metered parking is that it does make vehicles rotate….there is a space turnover.

    No Meters means vehicles don’t ever move…except maybe 1 time every 7 days or only on Street Cleaning Days 1 time a month.

  18. bobby says:

    and soon they will be dropping meters where there were never meters before so the rich get richer

  19. double bay says:


    Check your info before reporting. The meters on Solidarity are now payboxes. They have been for over two weeks. The are not under the Park District authority any more- and haven’t been for a year or so.

  20. Bob Foster says:

    Damn you CPM! You ruined these guys Saturday Morning Wake & Bake Fun!

  21. A.j. says:

    Actually, there was a really good reason those meters were installed there in the first place. Before the meters went in, all of that land was free parking for the many employees of the Medical District. When the City wised up to the fact that all of these employees (who worked at UIC Hospital, Rush, and Cook County) and various others were parking there, free of charge, up went the meters.

    It caused quite the outrage in the area, especially since the old-style (then) new meters were 2-hr parking only, and people needed those spaces for the 7.5-9hr work day. If the machines are more than 2-hr parking, there might actually be an upswing in parking, if just because people don’t have to go out there every two hours to add money.

  22. [...] week this site in a piece entitled “The World’s Loneliest Parking Meters,” reported on an area of the city with plenty of metered parking spaces, but no one there to [...]

  23. Bob Foster says:

    AJ: If that were the case why didn’t the city simply make the old style meters 10 or 12 hour time limits? At .25 cents per hour it would cost you two bucks to park for eight hours or 3 bucks for the day. And please don’t give me that “they would have to carry a roll of quarters” nonsense because we all did that downtown before the pay boxes went in. This was another example of the inept and mind numbingly stupid management that lead to the privatization in the first place.

  24. Greg says:

    I read this earlier today and was in the area a couple of hours ago so I drove by. The absurdity of this is much more striking when you actually see the area in person. There really is nothing – I mean nothing – in the area. Some of the boxes have weeds at least 1/2 as tall as the boxes. It’s even difficult to get down some of the streets because several of them are closed, for some odd reason. And in the 10 minutes I was there, not only were there no cars parked, but I didn’t even see another vehicle drive by, and saw maybe 4 people in the entire area. This isn’t even an area that is used as a park – it’s just big, empty lots with debris.

    Very strange…

  25. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    It’s crazy right Greg?


  26. Greg says:

    Geek -

    You should contact one of your news contacts about this. They would love this story…

  27. Drew says:

    Check out the pay boxes at Logan and Jones by the Target if you want to see Lonely.

  28. A.j. says:

    @Bob Foster: The old-style meters were only 2-hour jobs. With $.25 equating to 12 or so minutes. And as to why… Don’t ask me. Ask the city of Chicago. I’m just telling you what my coworkers experienced when the meters went in. I have no idea if they changed the old meters later for a $.25 an hour as my coworkers had stopped parking there and my information stream stopped.

    Because it actually WAS cheaper to park in the Medical District Garages than it was to park on the completely empty city streets.

  29. A. Castro says:

    Ahh, how I “love” to see the pay box in the picture, warms my heart… I drove through that area during the nighttime once. It’s arguably the most interesting thing I’ve seen here for a while and it makes me smile just seeing it. We might’ve gotten f-ed over on the parking deal, good thing is we didn’t pay for these boxes (directly, at least)…

  30. [...] September 2011:Now what’s this? Where’d the meters go?! Why, they took the thousands of brand-new meters out again… to replace them with the new meter boxes! [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>