City prepares technology-driven crackdown on illegal parking

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Tickets were 40 percent more likely to be issued to drivers from lower-income areas than to motorists who live in higher-income neighborhoods. | Sun-Times file photo

The number of parking tickets issued in Chicago has been dropping for years, while the city makes greater use of the Denver boot. But, that might be about to change.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is preparing to deliver on his promise to go citywide and around the clock with a technology-driven crackdown on illegal weekend parking in downtown Chicago.

City Hall has issued a request-for-proposals for “parking enforcement services” that will “augment” the “existing parking enforcement operations” run by the city’s Department of Finance.

The city is seeking a private contractor to supply a ticket-writing workforce to cover 912 man-hours-per-week in 81 parking enforcement zones.

The largest contingent — 17 parking enforcement officers and five supervisors — would work from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursday and Friday. That’s in addition to the 14 ticket writers and four supervisors assigned to the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift Monday-through-Friday.

Saturday would be covered by three overlapping shifts, each with nine ticket-writers and three supervisors: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Sunday would have two overlapping shifts with six parking enforcement aides and three supervisors working from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. and five ticket writers and three bosses covering the 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift.

The contract employees would be empowered to ticket motorists for 13 types of violations. They range from expired meter, disabled parking and loading, construction zone and permit parking violations to parking too close to fire hydrants, intersections and stop signs and expired license plate registration.

The request-for-proposals hit the streets at a time when parking-ticket writing in Chicago continues its steady decline, largely because Chicago Police officers have their hands full fighting crime.

Ticketing was down by five percent in 2016—to 2.25 million tickets. It dropped by another four percent during the first six months of last year. Booting was up 11 percent during that same period.

In spite of the steady decline in ticket-writing, Budget and Management spokesperson Molly Poppe stressed that the city has “no plans to increase the number of hours the [new] contractor would work” beyond the hours now covered by Serco, Inc.

But, Poppe acknowledged that the RFP is written in a way that could set the stage for increased hours.

“We want to provide flexibility should the need arise in the future based on the comments/needs from residents and if issues arise with a lot of illegal parking in neighborhoods and business districts,” she said.

Poppe noted that a second RFP has “already closed” related to “hand-held devices and technology” upgrades in the software used to issue parking tickets. That data analytics will help pinpoint where to deploy ticket-writers for maximum efficiency, she said.

Last year, some parking enforcement aides were reassigned to work weekends with employees from Serco, the private contractor previously working solo on weekend enforcement.

The teams were sent to bustling entertainment districts like downtown, River North and Wicker Park where bars, restaurants, nightclubs and stores serve as magnets for illegal parking.

They also worked in “various neighborhoods in need of increased enforcement of parking meters, residential permit parking and other violations,” with promising results.

Through the first nine months of last year, the weekend crackdown had generated more than 37,400 tickets and $2.6 million in revenue. That’s nearly twice as much as anticipated.

As a result, aldermen were told during City Council budget hearings that the crackdown would be expanded citywide, bolstered by the anticipated purchase of new hand-held computers that speed up the ticket-writing process and help enforcement aides communicate with each other and with private contractors.

At the time, City Comptroller Erin Keane described that $4 million crackdown in a way that goes beyond having the city’s parking enforcement aides work in tandem with contractor teams on weekends.

She talked about hiring a technology vender that would “help us with data analytics” and provide “new hand-held” computers to replace devices now 10 years old.

“It can be slow. There can be glitches. We’ll be able to help them be a lot more efficient. We expect that will generate about $4 million,” Keane said.

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