For years, Chicago has been writing fewer and fewer parking tickets while making greater and greater use of the wheel-locking Denver boot.

Now, parking ticket writing has stabilized, while booting is suddenly declining.

The surprise change is contained in ward-by-ward booting and ticketing figures released to aldermen on opening day of City Council budget hearings.

Those figures show Chicago police officers and parking enforcement aides wrote 1.1 million tickets during the first six months of this year. That’s virtually the same as the same period a year ago, when officials reported a five percent decline in ticket-writing from the previous year.

But booting through June 30 has declined by 10.5 percent, to 30,275 vehicles. In contrast, booting rose by 11 percent increase — to 33,836 disabled vehicles — during the same period a year ago.

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

Chicago generates roughly $200 million a year from all types of parking violations. And a decline in booting will be costly; a few years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised the booting fee from $60 to $100, so the decline of about 3,500 vehicles means losing about $350,000 in booting fees.

Although booting volume is down, the list of wards home to the most-booted motorists remained pretty much the same.

Once again, the Near West Side’s booming 27th Ward topped the city, this time with 1,374 boot scofflaws.

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That was followed by the 3rd Ward (1,300); 41st Ward, which includes O’Hare Airport (1,033); 28th Ward (1,010); 5th Ward (1,007); 6th Ward (1,002); 4th Ward (992); 20th Ward (914); 8th Ward (870) and 37th Ward (858).

The ward where the greatest number of parking tickets were written was the downtown’s 42nd.

But even though parking ticket writing was the same as last year citywide, it increased by a whopping 29.5 percent or 34,791 tickets in the 42nd Ward.

The ward had 117,792 tickets written through June 30 a year ago. It was 152,583 tickets during the same period this year.

The next highest wards for parking tickets are: the 2nd, which includes the Gold Coast (53,960); the booming 27th (52,534); the 44th, which includes Wrigley Field (48,573); the 25th (48,204); the 1st (47,749); the 4th (38,504); the 43rd (33,885); the 5th (28,043) and the 28th (25,377).

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) was not happy about what she called the “disproportionate” number of parking tickets issued in her ward, particularly for parking too close to a crosswalk.

“That has really got to stop,” Hairston said, demanding that City Comptroller Erin Keane provide the “top five citations issued on the South Side versus the North Side.”

She added: “The picture that it draws is that you are targeting less-affluent African-American communities in writing them more tickets. And I’m sure that’s not the picture that you want to draw.”

The surge in downtown ticketing while parking ticket writing elsewhere is flat is not unexpected.

Last year, a pilot crackdown on illegal weekend parking in downtown Chicago and other “high-traffic neighborhoods” was extended citywide.

At the time, Keane said parking enforcement aides would work in tandem with contractor teams on weekends and that the city hoped to hire a technology vender to provide “new handheld devices and predictive analytics software” to parking enforcement aides.

On Monday, Keane disclosed the technology initiative was “delayed by a few months” and City Hall now plans to roll it out before the end of the year.

“The purpose of the new system is to use data to efficiently direct enforcement personnel toward areas where it is most needed,” she said.

“The software will not only increase the effectiveness” of the parking aides, “but will also improve the accuracy of tickets with real-time data feeds. Currently, we analyze historic enforcement data without waiting for that technology and continue to allocate resources based on concerns by residents and businesses about compliance with the city’s parking laws and restrictions.”

If and when the technology upgrade arrives, the drop in booting could be short-lived.

“Technology is also helping us plan for remote deployment for booters using satellite antennas to transmit boot data wirelessly throughout the city. This change would cut down on travel time and improve productivity,” Keane said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) complained about what he called an “over-exertion of ticketing in some parts of the city versus other parts.”

Under questioning from Waguespack (32nd), Keane acknowledged the city paid $27 million to eight outside collections agencies that together brought in $138 million in debt.

The comptroller further revealed that the city has $1.6 billion in outstanding parking debt and $3.8 billion in overall debt; roughly $1.8 billion of that $3.8 billion is “from 2010 or prior,” Keane said.

Fact sheets on booting and parking tickets

Fact sheets showing figures of parking tickets issued and number of vehicles booted were distributed to aldermen on Monday. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times