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Booting and ticketing make a comeback in Chicago

The city issued 853,906 parking tickets through June 30, up 71% from a year ago. The Denver boot is making a similar comeback.

The “Denver Boot” is affixed to an automobile near the East Bank Club.
City and private boot crews slapped the dreaded, wheel-locking device on 27,656 vehicles during the first six months of the year, compared to 29,925 during all of 2020.
Sun-Times file

Chicago is making up for lost time to recoup pandemic-related losses in booting and ticketing, two of Chicago’s biggest revenue generators.

Through June 30, the city had issued 853,906 parking tickets, up 71% from the 498,980 tickets issued during the same period last year.

The Denver boot is making a similar comeback. City and private boot crews together slapped the dreaded, wheel-locking device on 27,656 vehicles during the first six months of the year, compared to 29,925 disabled vehicles during all of 2020.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) asked about the booting and ticketing comeback during the opening day of City Council budget hearings.

“It looks like we have more people that have been ticketed and booted in the first six months of this year than all of last year. Is that accurate?” Beale asked the mayor’s financial team.

City Comptroller Reshma Soni replied, “For the most part, yes. And that was because, last year when the pandemic hit, we had about four months when we didn’t do any kind of booting enforcement and started booting again in mid-July.”

Soni was quick to note that most of the disabled vehicles either belong to motorists who live outside the wards where boots are applied or outside the city altogether.

For years, ticketing and booting were headed in opposite directions. Parking ticket writing declined steadily, while the city made greater use of the boot.

That changed in 2018 when parking ticket writing stabilized, while booting declined by 10.5% just one year after an 11% increase.

Both declined in 2019. Ticketing dropped by 13.4%; booting declined by 8%.

City boot crews work from a list of more than 500,000 eligible license plates, many registered to motorists living outside Chicago.

Although booting volume is up dramatically from the same period last year, the list of wards with the most-booted motorists remained pretty much the same with a few exceptions.

The 41st Ward, which includes O’Hare Airport, tops the list this year, with 1,352 boots, followed by the perennial leader, the Near West Side’s booming 27th Ward with 1,075 boots. Next comes the 3rd Ward (1,060); the 28th Ward (994); the 29th (913); the 23rd (888); the 4th (884); the 37th (842); the 24th (794); 5th (763); the 20th (754) and the 6th (730).

The 1st and 8th Wards dropped off last year’s top booting list.

As always, by far, the greatest number of parking tickets was written in the downtown’s 42nd Ward. It had 90,190 tickets written through June 30, down just slightly from the 91,573 during the same period a year ago.

The next highest wards for parking tickets were the 44th (39,059); the 2nd (37,750); the 25th (37,051); the 27th (34,552); the 4th (33,205); the 3rd (31,667); the 1st (31,019); the 43rd (25,232); the 5th (25,122) and the 46th (20,458).

During Friday’s hearing, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) was more concerned about the almost complete absence of tickets being issued to bicycle riders endangering pedestrians.

“The number of people riding Divvy bikes on the sidewalks is insane,” Reilly said, pushing for a crackdown before more downtown employees return to their offices.

Last year, the stay-at-home shutdown and prolonged economic slowdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic had such a chilling effect on driving for business and pleasure, auto insurance giants doled out rebates.

Booting and ticketing followed suit.

At least some of the dramatic decline in ticketing and booting was traced to Lightfoot’s March 2020 decision to stop ticketing, booting and towing illegally parked vehicles except for public safety reasons. The hope was to give some measure of relief to residents whose jobs and paychecks were impacted by the coronavirus.

The go-easy period continued until early July 2020 when Chicago tiptoed into Phase 4 of its cautious reopening plan.

There was no parking meter holiday. Motorists were still required to feed meter boxes. Some who didn’t complain about being ticketed. 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.

Lightfoot balanced her 2021 budget in part by assuming that Chicago would rake in $68 million in additional revenue in 2021 from “enhanced fine enforcement initiatives.”

Chief among them was Lightfoot’s decision to do what the City Council authorized former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do, though he never did: have Chicago speed cameras strategically positioned around schools and parks churn out $35 tickets to motorists caught driving between 6 and 9 mph over the posted speed limit.

The Chicago Tribune has reported the city issued 322,447 of those tickets during the first two months of that new, lower threshold.

Parking tickets chart
Booting chart