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Editorial: Meter savings welcome

A parking meter 3100 block N. Broadway Ave. Chicago Ill. Wednesday December 26 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

A parking meter on the 3100 block of N. Broadway Ave. in Chicago, Ill., on Wednesday, December 26, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 1, 2013 6:19AM

By their nature, mayors like to cut ribbons on shiny new projects and keep their distance from inherited civic headaches.

So give Rahm Emanuel credit for wrestling with the city’s disastrous parking meter mess, even though the improvements his legal team has extracted can’t fully offset the heavy costs residents will pay for 71 more years of the privatization deal.

Under a proposed agreement announced Monday, the firm that took over the city’s meters, Chicago Parking Meters, has backed off its “aggressive” interpretation of how much money the city should pay the private company for meddling with existing parking spaces. In essence, CPM wanted cash even when changes didn’t cost it any revenue — a dubious practice we’re glad to see come to an end.

The city calculates the change will save $1 billion over the remaining years of the contract. But Emanuel acknowledged that even with the savings, “the city never should have done this deal.”

The agreement also includes a swap — Sunday parking will be free once again, except downtown, but that will be offset by adding to the hours the parking meters are in force. Wherever metered parking now ends at 9 p.m., it will be 10 p.m., except in River North where it will be midnight — three extra hours. The city figures free Sunday parking will be an $8 million benefit to motorists, and the longer hours of operation will cost them an estimated $7 million.

The agreement also calls for letting motorists use a smart phone app to pay for parking, with a 35-cent fee for parking two hours or less.

The City Council will get 30 days to review the deal. One issue the Council should examine carefully is how three additional hours of meter charges in River North and east to the lake will affect the area’s booming nightlife over the long term. The Sunday free parking is expected to help stores that now lose customers to competitors with free parking lots.

We wish the parking meter privatization could be undone. But at least this is a step forward.

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