Quite a bit a fallout this week on the parking meter fee increase which has pushed most Chicago parking meters from $0.25 an hour to $1.00 and hour, the exception being West Loop meters at $2/hour and Loop meters at $3.50/hour. The backlash has resonated everywhere, from parking meter blogs to a round table discussion on NPR’s eight forty-eight last Friday. This has caused such an uproar that the Sun-Times is calling it a “quiet rebellion”, and unleashed speculation that this could be the undoing of the mayor as a final straw. Really? I am sure there could be a more worthy cause than parking meters?
In comparison to Chicago, a public transit (and biking) oriented city, these other extreme car-centric cities make our parking meter rates seem like a pittance; Los Angeles $4/hr, Phoenix $1.50/hr, San Diego $1.25/hr, Dallas $1.25/hr to name a few. And all of which have little, if any, public transit options. The real outrage should be the City turning over a profitable parking meter enterprise to a private firm for little return. Not to mention, government resources will undoubtedly be allocated to increasing Chicago Parking Meters, LLC revenue since Chicago Police officers routinely write parking tickets (EDITORS NOTE: While LAZ receives all parking meter revenue, the City still retains the rights to the parking fines). This situation is similar to the public financing of private enterprises like Brinks Home Security, which collects fees from households for protection, however, if there is an incident who comes rolling up to the door but Chicago’s Finest.
The outrage should be even more dampened when you consider that automobile travel is already highly subsidized in this country. According to the National Highway System, there are about 156,000 miles of highway “improvements” a year which racks up a price tag of $6.6 billion. You can add that to the $93 billion in overall federal, state, and local spending (source: Asphalt Nation). Simply put, individual car ownership has to pay its fair share, and that includes parking fees. Hopefully an unintended consequence of the parking meter fee increase is the higher demand for transit alternatives such as bicycles, trains, and buses.
This issue is bigger than just parking and meters. Car culture heavily effects our urban planning policies and creates a roadblock towards more sustainable developments, especially if you consider the amount of space dedicated to moving and storing automobiles. Every new car on the road theoretically spreads our built environment over open space or prime agriculture land. Scant resources that we can no longer afford to give up to an impervious surface like asphalt.
Personally, I take this outrage and funnel it to the boycotting of the entire car-centric system, which has had us strangled by the tail pipes for over 50 years. I am hoping that the “quiet rebellion” comes in the way of a realization of the hoodwinking we have received from Car Nation. Columbia professor Elliot Sclar summed it up quite well when he said, “We buy our cars to go to work and then we work to buy our cars”. I know that our time, energy, and money can be better spent than honking, parking, and feeding meters. I think it is time to use our anger to ignite a people-centric form of transportation instead of perpetuating the existing. This way we will no longer be subject to the whims of private parking meter firms or starved city coffers.