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New year brings new fees for parking, driving and more

A Metrconductor collects fares checks tickets. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

A Metra conductor collects fares and checks tickets. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Mr. Tightwad’s here to help

Can folks possibly poke another new notch into that already tightened belt? Here are a few tips from Mr. Tightwad:

On tolls

Even if you only occasionally use the tollway, it’s just plain silly not to have an I-PASS. It softens the blow by a few bucks every time we take I-355 north to the mother-in law’s. Let’s face it, by not having an I-PASS, you’re literally throwing extra money out the window. You also can calculate tolls prior to a trip and try to figure out a cheaper route by visiting For instance, traveling round trip between New Lenox and O’Hare Airport via I-355 to I-55 to I-294 will cost about $9.80, compared with $8.70 via I-355 to I-88 to I-294. Time and distance are just about equal.

On water

Think twice about washing those dishes by hand, even if it’s just a few. The Consumer Energy Center reports that on average, a dishwasher will use 37 percent less water than if you had washed those same dishes by hand. You’re much better off putting them in the dishwasher and waiting until you have a full load to run it. You may be flushing more money down the toilet than you need to, too. Quickly and easily check for any leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in your toilet’s tank. If the water in the bowl changes color after a few minutes, you have a costly leak in your tank. And if you’re really looking to cut down your water bill, there’s always the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” practice. A modern toilet bowl uses an average of 1.6 gallons per flush. So if you have a large family that isn’t easily grossed out, you can actually save quite a bit of water this way.

On booze

If you still want to enjoy a glass of wine and be kind to your pocketbook, boxed wine can be a dream, as long as you can get past the fact that you’re pouring it out of a box. You can get some decent boxed wines for about $15. Those boxes hold more than six bottles of wine, so you’re only paying a shade over $2 per bottle.

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Updated: February 3, 2012 8:11AM

When you head back to work after the long holiday weekend, be prepared for the taxes-and-fees equivalent of sticker shock.

Ringing in the new year means ringing up more revenue at the city, county and state levels, and motorists and commuters apparently will bear the brunt of it.

Metra tickets, tolls, parking, Chicago vehicle stickers and Cook County vehicle sales taxes all are on the rise.

The hits to your pocketbook are coming from several directions, even down to the penny. That’s how much postage goes up on a first-class letter, and it’ll be 3 cents more to send a postcard.

And don’t try to drown your financial sorrows with alcohol or even water — taxes and fees are going up on those, too.

How does all this shake out? Here’s what we figured:

Train fares

† Metra fares are going up an average of 25 percent, effective Feb. 1. If you take the train downtown from Matwteson or Mokena’s Hickory Creek lot, for instance, expect to pay $35.50 more for a monthly pass, or $426 more per year. One-way rides in those zones are going up to $5.75 from $5.

Highway tolls

† All tolls nearly doubled as of Sunday to help pay for a construction and capital improvement plan approved by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. The tollway said the average trip will cost 55 cents more for those with an I-PASS. Round trip, with four five-day work weeks per month, that adds up to $22 per month more than the same trip last month. Tolls that were 40 cents with an I-PASS now are 75 cents, 50-cent tolls are 95 cents, and $1 tolls are $1.90. Thus, a round trip between Tinley Park and O’Hare Airport via I-294 has jumped to $4.50 from $2.40 — and that’s for I-PASS users. Double those amounts if you don’t have an I-PASS.

Chicago sticker fees

† Chicago city sticker fees will increase between $10 and $15, with annual inflationary increases in the future. The fine for not displaying a Chicago city sticker has gone from $120 to $200 in 2012, or $500 if you own a really big truck. At $60, late fees are $20 more, too.


Drivers who park in the downtown public garages on weekdays will pay a new $2 “congestion premium” — figure another $40 per month.

Parking meter rates in Chicago have risen between 25 and 75 cents per hour, depending on where you park. Let the meter expire and you’ll be slapped with a $50 fine, $10 more if you parked in the Central Business District.

Anyone who tampers with or damages a parking meter pay box will pay a fine that’s been upped to $750 from $500.

Other vehicle fees

† Fines doubled from $500 to $1,000 for driving with a revoked or suspended license in Chicago, and from $1,000 to $2,000 if the car is impounded.

† End up at a courthouse in Cook County, and you will pay a new $4.75 daily fee at those parking lots, unless you’re on jury duty or serving as a witness.

† A Cook County resident buying a new car will pay a quarter of a percent more, as the county use tax increased from .75 percent to 1 percent. On a $20,000 vehicle, that’s an extra $50.

† Beginning in March, Cook County will levy a new use tax on nonretail transfers of vehicles, varying from $175 to $225, depending on the age of the vehicle. It’s $25 even if you give the vehicle as a gift.

† In July, the wheel tax imposed on vehicle owners in unincorporated Cook County will have new fee amounts, including $50 for a motorcycle and $100 for a larger passenger vehicle weighing 4,500 pounds for more. Trucks and buses will be even more, depending on their weight.


† If your water comes from Lake Michigan, you’ll be tapped for more cash whether you live in Chicago or the suburbs. The first of four consecutive years of water and sewer rate increases by the city of Chicago began Sunday, and many suburbs are passing the cost on to users. It’s a 25 percent increase this year, and 15 percent in each of the following three years. For Chicagoans, that’s 50 cents more for every 1,000 gallons used, or about a $120 annual increase for the average household’s combined water/sewer bill.


† Effective Monday, Cook County has added a few cents more in taxes on a six-pack of beer, and 20 percent to 50 percent more for a bottle of wine or liquor. Depending on the percentage of alcohol by volume, the new tax on liquor will be 24 cents to $2.50 per gallon. Make that 50 cents just for the county for a fifth of whiskey, for example.

† Effective March 1, Cook County also will extend its tobacco tax to include cigars (5 cents for a little one, 25 cents for a large cigar) and smokeless tobacco — 30 cents per ounce.

† An overnight stay in a Chicago hotel will cost nearly $2 more (depending on the room rate), as the hotel tax was upped 1 percent to 4.5 percent.

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