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Surge pricing for parking near Wrigley could have been worse

Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown (left) and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) (right) testify at a committee hearing Thursday about surge pricing around Wrigley Field

Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown (left) and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) testify at a committee hearing Thursday about surge pricing for street parking around Wrigley Field. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Chicago aldermen on Thursday put the final touches on a plan to double parking meter rates at 1,100 spaces around Wrigley Field and learned it could have been a whole lot worse for motorists.

Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown said she wanted to launch the surge pricing experiment with a sixfold increase in the $2-an-hour parking meter rate to discourage fans from driving to Cubs games.

“I’ll be honest. I wanted to do $12. And the [local] alderman looked at me like I was crazy,” Brown told the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety. “I had my CFO hat on, as opposed to my constituents hat.”

Local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he nixed the idea of charging whatever the market will bear to avoid what happened after former Mayor Richard M. Daley leased Chicago parking meters and empowered the company to implement a steep schedule of rate hikes.

“Going from $2 to $4 is a big deal. This is what got us into trouble in the first place — because we never properly priced the meters,” Tunney said.

“So when the meters went from 25 cents an hour to $2 an hour, there was a violent reaction from businesses, from residents and such. That’s why I believe in the incremental approach. There was no way I was gonna support going from $2 to $12.”

The surge pricing — which could ultimately extend to the streets surrounding the United Center and Soldier Field — is scheduled to take effect at 5 p.m. April 10 after a pair of technical amendments approved Thursday.

The first change would align the new fees with “programmed payment increments” used by the pay boxes that replaced Chicago parking meters. Since the pay boxes start on the hour, surge pricing would begin “at the hour nearest to” two hours prior to the Cubs game, Wrigley concert or other special event.

If the game starts at 7:05 p.m., as most night games do, surge pricing would begin at 5 p.m.

The second change would clarify when surge pricing ends. Paid parking ends on the streets surrounding Wrigley Field at 10 p.m. The new language would allow surge pricing to extend beyond 10 p.m. to include the seven-hour window.

Neither change was controversial. But the mere discussion of parking meter rates touched a nerve.

“Whenever the city has found a way to make some money, they tend to expand it. A prime example is our red-light cameras. At one point, it was for safety concerns to help prevent accidents. But once it became a revenue source, red-light cameras were all throughout the city,” said West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who cast the only dissenting vote.

“I’m concerned that, in the future, we’re gonna expand beyond the sporting arenas into neighborhoods. … We have to be very careful to make sure that this does not turn into a revenue piggy bank for the city at our constituents’ expense. Because I can’t see a need for surge pricing around a Park District stadium where high school football is played. … And I certainly would not like to see surge pricing on commercial streets.”

Taliaferro noted that the mayor is in the process of removing red-light cameras from six intersections and placing them at five other ones.

“I don’t think they’ve asked any aldermen for their support. They’re just doing it,” he said.

When Traffic Committee Chairman Walter Burnett (27th) joked that only “chump aldermen” are not consulted about such changes, Taliaferro let him have it with a smile.

“Ain’t no such thing as a chump alderman. I’m 350 pounds. Ain’t no chump here. … I ain’t no chump. Anybody who knows me will tell you that,” Taliaferro said.

The mayor’s original plan called for surge pricing around Wrigley to apply to 820 parking spaces and generate $2.4 million. But the plan has since been expanded to cover 1,100 spaces while the revenue estimate has been lowered to $1.5 million.

“Impacted meters include those on arterial streets and wraparound streets,” Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, wrote in an email.

The money will be used to offset the annual payment to Chicago Parking Meters LLC for meters taken out of service for construction and special events or used by people with disabilities. The last annual payment for those so-called “true-up” costs amounted to $12 million.

Tunney said he has forced the city to spend more on signs than Brown intended to make certain motorists are not blindsided by the new rates.

“I have Sunday enforcement on arterials, but not on the wraparounds. There’s gonna be a learning curve. And there are going to be some tickets written, unfortunately,” he said.

“But we’re doing our [part] to make sure that every sign … has surge pricing, hours and dates.”