clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Emanuel to try do-it-yourself Denver boot removal

Chicago parking ticket scofflaws may finally get the chance to remove their own wheel-locking Denver boots instead of waiting for city crews to arrive.

Eight years after the “do-it-yourself” technology upgrade was first suggested, City Hall has finally issued a request for proposals for “self-release vehicle immobilization devices.”

The potential benefits are plenty: speeding up payments, thereby reducing the need to tow and store 400 vehicles a week because fines are not paid within 24 hours; minimizing motorist aggravation; freeing city crews tied up on releases to do more booting and reducing tampering that typically destroys roughly 3 1/2 percent of the 1,200 boots applied each week.

“Currently, payments for tickets for booted vehicles must be made in person at a . . . payment center or auto pound. The motorist then must wait for the city to release the boot. By providing this option, it potentially would allow motorists to pay over the phone with a credit card, receive a security code, remove the boot themselves and return it to designated locations. A security deposit would be required for the motorist to exercise this option,” Elizabeth Langsdorf, a spokesperson for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“This would also allow current resources to be used more effectively — less resources would be needed for releasing boots and more resources could be allocated in other ways. This is one more way the city is looking to be more efficient. It is not meant as a revenue driver but as a way to create efficiencies in the booting process.”

The idea of “self-releasing” Denver boots was first suggested in 2006.

Then-Revenue Director Bea Reyna-Hickey touted it as a way to make scofflaws who smash, kick and otherwise destroy Denver boots while trying desperately to remove them less inclined to tamper.

She vowed then to embark on a pilot program that would allow motorists to phone in their credit card numbers to pay up, then get a code that releases the boot when punched into a keypad on the device.

When the revenue director noted that motorists would be responsible for returning the boot, then-Ald. Fredrenna Lyle (6th) got suspicious.

“If you boot my car, I’m already mad. When you take it off, I’m still mad because I’ve had to pay you. Then, you want me to deliver something back to you? It’ll be in the street,” Lyle said then.

One year later, the do-it-yourself concept was scrapped in favor of other technology upgrades, including pay-and-display boxes, automated license plate readers and beepers that allow motorists to pay for parking by phone. All have become standard operating procedure.

“We don’t have the money to do everything. We have to establish priorities and focus on proven technology,” Reyna-Hickey said in explaining the delay.

The new RFP requires the designated contractor to designate “no less than five locations” where self-released boots could be returned and operate a boot call center that answers all phones “within eight rings.”

Companies vying for the contract were also required to describe in detail how they intend to resolve conflicts caused by boots returned in a damaged condition or by motorists who cause “damage to their car or themselves while self-releasing” boots.

The city intends to sign a five-year contract with a two-year renewal option that may start with a two-month pilot to work out the kinks.

But the RFP makes it clear that the contractor’s “sole compensation” for supplying 500 self-releasing boots a day, fielding calls, processing payments and operating the five drop-off centers “shall be the boot release fee.”

The precise amount was left blank in the RFP.

“The city shall only be obligated to pay the contractor when an operator or owner of a booted vehicle avails themselves of the self-release services. City shall not, therefore, be obligated to pay the contractor when a city employee or contractor unlocks the boot or is dispatched to unlock the boot and finds the vehicle gone on arrival,” the bid document states.

The winning bidder will be allowed to deduct “from a deposit to be charged to the operator’s credit card” if the motorist chooses to self-release but fails to return the boot of returns it damaged.

In 2008, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley dropped the boot threshold from three unpaid tickets to two older than one year.

That triggered a booting frenzy, even as the number of parking tickets issued by the city declined with Chicago Police officers justifiably preoccupied with crime-fighting.

In 2010, the city was booting an average of 1,311 vehicles each week. The pace of booting has now dropped to 1,200 vehicles a week, roughly 800 of them released by city crews. That’s prompted the Emanuel administration to look to turn to the do-it-yourself technology to improve efficiency.

The city has 30 employees charged with applying and releasing boots.

They work from a boot eligibility list that includes 500,000 license plates and generate $30 million in annual revenue.

Self-release boots are already used in New York and Seattle. Motorists in Chicago will be required to pay a security deposit that would be refunded upon return of an undamaged boot.