The temporary reprieve is over for Chicago motorists. Ticketing and booting are making an unwelcome comeback.
On March 18, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Chicago would stop ticketing, booting and towing illegally parked vehicles, except for public safety reasons, through April 30 to give some measure of relief to residents whose jobs and paychecks have been impacted by the coronavirus.
At the time, the mayor reserved the right to extend the go-easy period. She did just that several times — even after residential street sweeping resumed with no-parking signs, but minus the ticketing-and-towing hammer.
There was no parking-meter holiday. Motorists still were required to feed meter boxes; some complained about being ticketed when they didn’t. But City Hall made no attempt to collect overdue debt and no interest accumulated on existing payment plans. The ultimate penalty of booting vehicles was suspended.
Now that Chicago has tiptoed into Phase 4 of its cautious reopening plan, the free ride is ending.
On Wednesday, ticketing enforcement resumed for illegal parking along street-sweeping routes. On Monday, booting makes a comeback. On July 16, the city will resume ticketing for expired city stickers and residential parking permits.
Enforcement for expired vehicle registration will be the last to resume — on Oct. 2.
“When the city began sheltering in place … the Lightfoot administration temporarily suspended debt collection, non-safety vehicle impoundments and the issuance of compliance tickets to provide relief to residents experiencing increased financial pressure from the COVID-19 global pandemic,” the mayor’s office said in an email.
“During the early stages of the reopening plan, the Department of Finance began notifying motorists about their outstanding debt and offering to restructure or restart their payment plans to avoid default. Now that the city has entered Phase Four of the reopening framework, debt collection and payment plan defaults will also resume.”
Scofflaws were urged to go to www.Chicagogov/newstartchicago to set up a payment plan for overdue tickets and utility bills. Those plans give debtors up to 60 months to repay with a lower down payment.
The stay-at-home shutdown of the Chicago economy triggered by the pandemic blew a $700 million hole in Lightfoot’s precariously balanced 2020 budget. It was not known precisely how much the unprecedented suspension of ticketing and booting added to that shortfall.
“As we’ve mentioned before, motorists were still required to pay parking meters throughout the COVID outbreak, but parking enforcement efforts were scaled back to prioritize safety-related violations,” Budget and Management spokesperson Kristen Cabanban wrote in an email to the Sun-Times, promising to provide specific figures.
The temporary reprieve was a familiar theme for the mayor.
Last fall, Lightfoot convinced the City Council to cut Chicago scofflaws some slack by reducing fines, expanding payment plans and stopping drivers’ license suspensions for non-moving violations.
That was the first installment on a promise to wean Chicago away from fines and fees that have punished those who least can afford it. She also has stopped water shutoffs, calling water a “basic human right.”
During her election campaign, Lightfoot also promised to raise the boot threshold and eliminate a hefty chunk of red-light cameras at 149 intersections if the reason for installing a camera was revenue, rather than safety.
She even proposed abolishing city stickers, the source of many compliance tickets, and replacing the $128 million in annual revenue used to repair and maintain Chicago streets with higher fees on ride-hailing vehicles.
She subsequently pushed through a controversial, $40 million congestion fee that tanked when the pandemic crippled the ride-hailing industry.