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Ald. Reilly wants to ditch swap of free Sunday parking for midnight meters

Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 6, 2013 7:00AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel would have a far easier time persuading a skeptical City Council to swallow his proposed settlement with the company leasing Chicago parking meters if he dropped plans to swap a longer paid parking day for free neighborhood parking on Sundays, according to an influential alderman.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) applauded Emanuel for “protecting us from $1 billion in exposed liabilities” over the remaining 71 years of the lease by persuading Chicago Parking Meters LLC to accept the city’s reimbursement formula for metered spaces taken out of service because of policing actions.

That’s after agreeing to pay the company $63.8 million to settle years of disputed claims and an arbitrator’s ruling on compensation tied to free parking provided to motorists with disabled placards.

But Reilly said the decision to trade free neighborhood parking on Sundays for up to three extra hours of parking meter fees in Streeterville and River North could provide yet another potential windfall for Chicago Parking Meters LLC at the expense of his constituents.

Forcing motorists to feed the meters until 10 p.m. in some places and midnight in others — instead of 9 p.m. — could also have a chilling effect on the hospitality industry, the alderman warned. And free neighborhood parking on Sundays could reduce the number of parking tickets, depriving the city of an important source of revenue used to balance the annual budget.

The bottom line is that Reilly wants Emanuel to strip away the swap and stay with the settlement.

“By promising free Sunday parking to a large portion of the city, we’re effectively talking about taking money out of your right pocket and putting it in your left pocket. Many people who live in the neighborhoods come downtown and use these meters that have to be plugged until midnight. They’ll be paying for it one way or another,” Reilly said.

“We honestly don’t know whether extending these hours will represent a windfall for the company, which is not our intent.”

Emanuel argued earlier this week that he made a “bad” parking meter deal better by negotiating the swap and if aldermen don’t think so, they can vote it down.

Closed-door briefings went on all week to try to sell the mayor’s plan to aldermen who took a political beating for approving the original parking meter deal and all of them were contentious, sources said.

No wonder Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, was making no predictions.

“Saving $1 billion is a fairly compelling argument, but this deal has had a number of different nuances that nobody really understood when it was passed. We keep finding new ones every day, so we’ll see,” O’Connor said.

Top mayoral aides have argued that free Sundays would cost the company $8 million while Chicago Parking Meters LLC would gain $7 million from the extended hours. But they have also acknowledged that $7 million is a projection and that they don’t know for sure how motorists will behave when asked to feed the meters until midnight.

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