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Chicago-Style Parking Plan Could Raise $5 Billion Plus for NYC

10:25 AM EDT on July 31, 2008

muni_meter.jpgAccording to a senior municipal bond analyst at a leading Wall
Street firm, New York City could
raise between five and six billion dollars immediately if it privatized its parking meters as Chicago
is doing.

Whether privatization is the right way to unlock New York City's parking riches is debatable. What's not in question is that curbside parking in New York and most U.S. cities is grossly underpriced and could potentially be a crucial source of revenue for much needed transportation improvements. Chicago has chosen to outsource the political will to raise meter prices. Cities with the gumption to raise their own meter prices will keep much more of the revenue. That said, at least Chicago is doing something about its parking dysfunction, and will get the very real benefits of reduced cruising traffic and double parking.

The Bond Buyer reports
that Chicago expects to raise more than a billion dollars upfront when it awards a minimum 50-year concession to
operate its curbside parking meter system. Ten corporate consortiums are
bidding for the contract, which is expected to go before the City Council in
the fall. According to Transportation Alternatives' recent report Pricing the Curb [PDF], Chicago will require vendors to use state-of-the-art parking meters
that monitor parking space availability and adjust rates to ensure an open
space on every block. Chicago
will raise meter rates as part of the deal.

Chicago's 36,000
parking meters generated $23 million in 2007. New York
City's 75,900 meters produced $114 million. (New York anticipates $120 million in meter revenue in
2008.)

Chicago leads
the U.S. in
privatization deals or "public-private partnerships." It leased the Chicago
Skyway toll-way in a 99-year deal with a multinational consortium in 2005 for
$1.82 billion. It followed up that deal with another 99-year lease of four
downtown parking garages to a private operator for $563 million in 2006.

Mayor Daley says Chicago
will use lump sums from the privatization deals to create a reserve fund which
will generate interest for long-term infrastructure investments and to pay down debt and
pension obligations. But some Chicago City Council members have expressed
concern about the proposed parking privatization and higher meter rates. "We saw that in the Skyway. Fees went up. If we lose
control of that, the citizens have nobody to complain to. They're not going to
listen to John Q. Citizen," Transportation Committee chairman Tom Allen
(38th) told the Sun Times.

Photo: jeanphony/Flickr

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