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Meter cheaters stay away in Chicago under first day of new parking rules

Updated: February 18, 2014 6:29AM

Meter cheaters seem to have gotten the message.

Blocks in the Loop, South Loop and Near North side that used to be filled with cars displaying blue or red disability-parking placards looked noticeably different Thursday — the first day Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration enforced a new state law designed to keep able-bodied drivers from illegally using placards to avoid having to feed parking meters.

Until now, anybody who’d hung a conventional blue or red disability-parking placard or had handicapped license plates could park for free all day long in any metered spot in Illinois.

Under the new law, only drivers who have a yellow-and-gray “meter-exempt permanent placard” can park free at metered spaces. To get those placards, drivers must have their doctors attest that they are physically incapable of feeding meter payboxes.

Thursday morning, a handful of yellow-and-gray placards were spotted in metered blocks. But the blue and red placards that used to dominate many blocks had disappeared, meaning those drivers were paying for street parking or using pay lots or parking garages.

On Wells Street between Randolph and Van Buren, city workers previously would observe nearly 90 percent of metered spots occupied by cars with blue or red placards.

But Thursday morning, only one car in that area displayed a blue placard without paying to park — and it was promptly hit with a $65 “expired meter” ticket.

City Hall authorized a 15-day grace period before enforcing the state law and posted numerous signs warning of the change. By midday Thursday, only a handful of placard-related tickets had been written.

“Taking a preliminary look at it, it seems to be working,” said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for the city’s finance department. “People have gotten the message, and spots are freeing up for the people who actually need them.”

The new law is designed to keep drivers from using relatives’ placards — as well as stolen and fake placards — to avoid paying parking rates that have been rising since 2009 under a meter-privatization deal championed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

That deal also requires City Hall to reimburse Chicago Parking Meters LLC — the private company that took over metered parking from the city — for most free parking provided to drivers who display disability placards.

Those payments that have totaled more than $55 million since 2010, but the new law is expected to drastically reduce that amount because only a fraction of disabled drivers are eligible for the new yellow-and-gray placards.


Twitter: @FuscoChris

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