With the Cubs home opener 12 days away, the City Council on Wednesday finalized plans to double parking meter rates at 1,100 spaces around Wrigley Field amid fears that “surge pricing” could someday spread throughout the city.
“Whenever the city has found a way to make some money, they tend to expand it,” said West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), pointing to the nation’s largest red-light camera network.
“I’m concerned that, in the future, we’re gonna expand beyond the sporting arenas into neighborhoods. . . . We have to be very careful to make sure that this does not turn into a revenue piggy bank for the city at our constituents’ expense.”
Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown did nothing to ease Taliaferro’s fears during a committee meeting last week.
She said the “intent” of the mayor’s ordinance was not just to “focus on sports stadiums like Wrigley, Soldier Field and the United Center.”
“The intent . . . was to focus on those areas of the city that, because of certain events or certain things that happen through the course of the year, experience a surge in activity and visitors to that area that contribute to the congestion,” Brown said then.
She assured Taliaferro that surge pricing will not be expanded without support from the local alderman and the full City Council.
For now, the pilot program will be limited to 1,100 parking spaces in the Wrigley Field area generally bounded by Irving Park Road, Southport, Belmont and Broadway.
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Within those boundaries, parking meter rates will double from $2 an hour to $4 an hour starting at 5 p.m. on April 10. The new rate will begin two hours before a game, concert or special event at Wrigley, and extend for seven hours.
The mayor’s original plan called for surge pricing around Wrigley to apply to 820 parking spaces and generate $2.4 million. But the plan has since been expanded to include, both arterial and “wrap-around streets” and cover 1,100 spaces. The revenue estimate has been lowered to $1.5 million.
The money will be used to offset the annual payment to Chicago Parking Meters LLC for meters taken out of service for construction and special events or used by people with disabilities.
The pair of technical amendments approved Wednesday put the final touches on the mayor’s plan.
The first change aligns the new fees with the pay boxes, which start on the hour. So surge pricing would begin “at the hour nearest to” two hours prior to the Cubs game, Wrigley concert or other special event.
If the game starts at 7:05 p.m., as most night games do, surge pricing would begin at 5 p.m.
The second change clarifies when surge pricing ends. Paid parking ends on the streets surrounding Wrigley Field at 10 p.m. The new language would allow surge pricing to extend beyond 10 p.m. to include the seven-hour window.
If Brown had her way, the impact on motorists would have been three times worse. She wanted to launch the surge pricing experiment by charging $12 an hour to discourage fans from driving to Cubs games.
Brown said when she suggested it, local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) “looked at me like I was crazy.”
Tunney said he nixed the idea of charging whatever the market will bear to avoid the political backlash that followed former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decision to let the company that leased Chicago parking meters implement a steep schedule of rate hikes.
“When the meters went from 25 cents an hour to $2 an hour, there was a violent reaction from businesses, from residents and such. That’s why I believe in the incremental approach. There was no way I was gonna support going from $2 to $12,” Tunney said.
Tunney said Wrigleyville has been blanketed with signs to make certain motorists are not blindsided by the new rates.
“I have Sunday enforcement on arterials, but not on the wraparounds. There’s gonna be a learning curve. And there are going to be some tickets written, unfortunately,” he said.