Exploring Alternatives to Chicago’s “Parking Tax”

Chicago’s 2012 budget was recently released and includes a newly proposed “parking tax” which is proving to be unpopular with many Chicagoans. In a Chicago Tribune article, the tax is described as follows:

In the 2012 Chicago budget released last week, Emanuel proposed a “congestion premium” of $2 on every driver who parks in a public parking garage or lot on weekdays in downtown and in River North. Weekly parkers downtown who pay at least $60 at public garages and lots would face a congestion tax of $15 to $25, and the tax for monthly parkers who now pay $240 or more would range from $60 to $100…It’s a simple concept designed to generate $28 million annually for the CTA, according to City Hall.

So, according to this plan, those who park downtown during the week will face new fees and taxes. The goal of the “parking tax” is to reduce downtown vehicle congestion and encourage Chicagoans to use public transport. While the goal is admirable, many question the unintended side effects of the new plan, including discouraging people from venturing into downtown Chicago for both work and entertainment purposes.

A number of alternate plans have been suggested, including the option to imitate a parking fee plan currently being tested in San Francisco. The San Francisco plan shares similar goals to the Chicago plan, but accomplishes the goals using a variable pricing scheme. Instead of flat fees, the parking rates are modified every six weeks, based upon supply and demand. Drivers are encouraged to use real-time reports using their smart phones to check rates and parking availability, as explained in the Chicago Tribune article:

San Francisco recently received a federal grant to test a robust variable-pricing plan at city-owned garages and meter spots in eight areas of the city. By using new parking technology and a flexible approach to pricing, the program is aimed at maximizing convenience for drivers while reducing pollution and attracting more people on to public transit and speeding up those trips…Real-time monitoring takes the guesswork out of finding parking…Drivers can go online, use an app on their smartphones or use text messages to check rates and available parking at a location. Rates are driven by parking data with a goal of achieving the proper level of open parking…

Given the public outcry over the new parking rates, considering alternatives would be a wise choice. Encouraging the use of public transit and reducing downtown congestion is an admirable goal, but there are no doubt other ways to accomplish those goals that don’t discourage Chicagoans from enjoying the many benefits that this fine city offers.

Howard Ankin of Ankin Law (www.ankinlaw.com) handles workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. Mr. Ankin can be reached at (312) 600-0000 and howard@ankinlaw.com.

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