Lightfoot curtails ticketing, towing and booting to ease burden of coronavirus

The mayor announced the unprecedented hiatus during a conference call with reporters where she also disclosed that an employee in the city’s Department of Procurement Services has tested positive for the coronavirus.

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A city of Chicago parking ticket

Parking tickets, booting and towing will be curtailed as the city continues to grapple with the coronavirus.

Sun-Times file

Chicago will 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.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the unprecedented hiatus during a conference call with reporters where she also disclosed that an employee in the city’s Department of Procurement Services has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The suspension of ticketing, booting and towing operations has already begun. It accompanies a decision to stop adding late fees and interest to debts owed to the city — including red-light and speed camera violations — as well as suspend referrals to collection agencies and debt checks for drivers of ride-hailing vehicles and taxis.

“Now is the time to act. It’s the right thing to do. We know that cash flow is a significant issue and we want to make sure that we’re doing our part to really hear people, recognize what their daily struggles are, and use the levers of city government to help them rather than leave them reeling and potentially driving them into bankruptcy,” she said.

The mayor portrayed the temporary suspension of non-safety-related ticketing, booting and towing as the first installment on a broader relief plan aimed at small businesses and hourly employees hardest hit by the pandemic.

It’ll last until at least April 30 although city officials “reserve the right to extend the time period, if necessary.”

The city is also talking to Chicago Parking Meters LLC about suspending its ticketing operations during the crisis.

“This isn’t free parking. But we’re not gonna be focusing as much of our ticketing people for expired meters and the like. People still do have to pay for parking as they normally would. But our ticketing activities … [are] really gonna be focused on public safety issues — not the standard fare-expired meters,” she said.

“However, if a car is just left on the streets, it’s gonna be deemed abandoned and that car will be towed in that circumstances.”

The decision to ease up on ticketing, towing and booting comes as downtown Chicago has turned into a ghost town, with restaurants and bars closed and most Chicagoans working from home.

It’s also 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, stop booting for non-moving violations and eliminate a hefty chunk of red-light cameras at 149 intersections if those cameras were used for revenue rather than safety.

She even proposed abolishing city stickers, which are 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.

On Wednesday, the mayor teased her broader relief plan that’s still in the works.

“One of the most important things we can do is keep people economically solvent and sound. If people don’t have resources, they’re not going to be able to pay taxes ultimately,” Lightfoot said.

“We know that there’s a significant amount of economic pressure all over, but particularly service employees, hourly workers in the hospitality area in particular. That’s why we’re looking at ways to give them relief to put money in their pocket rather than collecting it in fines and fees, or worse, driving people into bankruptcy.”

Also on Wednesday, Lightfoot said she is not considering switching Chicago Police officers to 12-hour shifts. But she has temporarily transferred police recruits to police districts, essentially shutting down the police academy.

She also acknowledged working with others in the “criminal justice network” to at least explore ways to “keep the jail population low” by focusing on “folks who pose the biggest risk.”

But, she stressed: “Obviously, we’re not gonna shy away from arresting people who are committing violent crime.”

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