More Parking, Bad for Business?

A Chicago meter box

They’ve been vandalized, boycotted, and, in the last month, some 20 of the city’s pay-to-park meter boxes have actually been stolen.  They don’t appear to have too many fans.

There’s little doubt that the new parking meter system has made an impact – especially in places like the Devon Avenue marketplace on Chicago’s North Side.

“A year ago when you came here before the new meter boxes were put in, you could never find a spot to park in over here,” says Amie Zander of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.  “It was really, really difficult.”

Zander represents some 200 small business owners in the bustling area of mostly South Asian storefronts.  She says the recent privatization of Chicago’s parking has presented both advantages and challenges for business owners and their customers.

“The new parking boxes have actually helped us a little a bit.  There’s lots more parking at off-hours of the day,” she says.  “During peak times, it’s still just as crowded as before and still just as difficult.”

But since the Daley administration gave up control of the 36,000 Chicago parking meters to a private vendor, parking on Devon has become more expensive than ever.

A year ago it cost about a quarter an hour – today it costs five times that.

And while the Devon Avenue market boasts some of the highest sales tax revenues in the city, business has been on a steady decline for the last three years.

According to data from the Illinois Department of Revenue, business in the area is down nearly 25 percent from 2007 to 2009.

Coupled with a down economy, business owners here say aggressive ticketing, high parking fees, and fines are driving customers away.

“A lot of people are not shopping anymore.  And even if they have to, they go to the suburbs where they have their local groceries and what not,” says shop owner Huma Mahtani.  “They don’t want to come to Devon because they have to constantly feed meters.”

According to city records released last week, ticketing for parking violations in the city is down nearly 12 percent for the first eight months of this year compared to the same period last year.

But Mahtani estimates that some 80 percent of her customers end up with tickets when they shop on Devon.

Zander says it has gotten worse in the past couple of months.

“Primarily, we see representatives of the parking company out there, City of Chicago enforcement, and there are police enforcements as well.  So we’ve got three different groups out here ticketing at any given time of the day,” says Zander.  “So you’re going to get a ticket if you don’t abide by the rules.”

Neither the Chicago Department of Revenue nor CPD were able to tell us whether or not ticketing has increased on Devon Avenue, but business owners and customers insist it has.

“I have one every week. While I’m talking, he gets a ticket right in front of my eyes.  Literally, they’re like waiting for someone’s meter to expire.”

And just outside Huma Mahtani’s sari shop a simple twist of fate earned one unsuspecting shopper a fifty-dollar ticket, even though she fed the meter.

It turns out Dr. Mumtaz Husain’s parking receipt was flipped upside down.  And though she was paid up for another five minutes it didn’t matter.

“I always think twice about coming to Devon unless I absolutely have to,” she said.  “I never want to come out because the parking situation is abysmal.”

So for business owners like Huma Mahtani, it seems all she can do now is wait for the soon-to-open parking structure under construction at Devon and Rockwell or for the economy to rebound — because the metered parking boxes are locked in for the next 73 years.

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One response to “More Parking, Bad for Business?”

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