NYT Says Chicago Meter System ‘One Of World’s Best’

An old school parking meter from before the notorious Chicago parking meter lease came into being in 2008 adds its two cents.


A writer on a New York Times blog claims “Today, the Chicago Metered Parking System is considered one of the world’s best.”?

So says Kent Rowey in a July 15th piece extolling the benefits of public-private partnerships.

It’s hard to take exception with the thesis of his entire piece, which is that privatization is a way for cash strapped cities to find large transfusions of money from private entities.

But here’s what he says about the Chicago deal:

Gaining much needed cash and operating efficiency are prime incentives for municipalities to undertake such transactions [i.e. the privatization of public assets]. Chicago entered into a concession for 36,000 parking meters a few years ago through a 75-year contract valued at more than $1 billion. Besides streamlining the costs of running the citywide program, the new concession exposed abuses of handicapped parking permits and led to the passage of a law preventing abuses. Today, the Chicago Metered Parking System is considered one of the world’s best.

Privatization has and can be done successfully.

But Rowey’s choice of Chicago’s parking meter lease fiasco is certainly, to wildly understate it, is not an example of a successful privatization deal.

In fact, the entire piece collapses under his mind boggling claim the meter lease deal was a good thing.

Chicagoans are painfully aware of the nearly 500% increases in rates, the lack of any market based pricing, the botched transition of the metered parking system from public to private control, the millions of dollars the city has had and will continue to pay for lost meter revenue and the millions of dollars paid to the meter company for abuse of disability placards to park for free.

And what about the paltry $1.16 billion lump sum payment that the Chicago Inspector General’s office and other experts said was at least a billion or more too little compensation for a 75 year long lease.

One could go on and on and on…but what’s the point?

Even many champions of privatization have privately conceded that Chicago’s was a case study in failure, a poor model for other PPP deals and actually may have slowed down these types of deals due to the flaming plane crash style failure it was.

Rowey may be pointing out that now, under the control of a private investment company and managed by LAZ Parking, Chicago’s parking meter system is operated much more efficiently than when the city ran it.

This is most certainly true. However, this may be the single, solitary benefit which has come out of the deal for most Chicagoans.

Read the NYT piece for yourself, “Public-Private Partnerships Could Be a Lifeline for Cities.”

A few others have weighed in on this piece, including Neil Steinberg at the Sun-Times, Reuters, Whet Moser at Chicago Magazine who points out Rowey actually consulted on Chicago’s meter lease deal and Crain’s Chicago Business.

Hat Tip to Chicagoist for bring this to our attention.

2 Responses to NYT Says Chicago Meter System ‘One Of World’s Best’

  1. nonya says:

    Hinted at in your list of downsides, but not explicitly stated (you stated the cost) is the fact that the meter mess has robbed the city of the flexibility of removing spots for things like bike racks and divvy stations and stuff like that. With the meter deal, when a spot is removed, some other non-metered spot has to be found to replace it.

    Recently, Waguespack had to block a divvy station from going into 2 parking spots because CDOT said they needed *10* to replace it.

  2. Jeff says:

    Mr. Rowley’s piece has entirely missed the point of what’s wrong with the parking lease fiasco. His article is a perfect example of the kind of half-assed reporting/junior high journalism that can be found in today’s media, even at the venerated New York Times.

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