Wednesday, October 4, 2023
News The Infamous Chicago Parking Meter Deal You Probably Don’t Remember

The Infamous Chicago Parking Meter Deal You Probably Don’t Remember

Chicago’s 75-year parking meter lease deal caused significant financial implications due to undervaluation.


  • Chicago’s parking lease deal grossly undervalued city’s assets.

  • Sharp increase in parking rates burdened residents and businesses.

  • Poor deal structure led to financial repercussions for Chicago.


The privatization of public utilities and resources has been a hot topic for debate for many years. The City of Chicago’s infamous parking meter lease deal, enacted in 2008, has emerged as a paramount case study in this discourse, particularly due to its enormous financial implications and repercussions.

This deal, involving the lease of the city’s parking meters for 75 years to the private company Chicago Parking Meters LLC (CPM), has sparked controversy and drawn criticism from various quarters. The city’s decision to lease out its parking meters was primarily driven by a need to quickly raise funds to close a budget gap.

Chicago Parking Meter
Chicago Parking Meter

The lease deal netted the city $1.15 billion upfront. However, financial analysts and critics have consistently argued that this amount was a pittance compared to the actual value that these parking meters could generate over the long term. The deal was approved by the City Council in a hurried vote, leaving little room for a comprehensive financial review or detailed scrutiny of its terms.

The immediate implications were clear and harsh for the city’s residents. Parking rates skyrocketed shortly after the deal was enacted. In some areas of downtown, hourly rates went from $0.25 to $6.50 by 2013, a staggering 26-fold increase.

This not only burdened the city’s residents but also had potential implications for local businesses and tourism, as higher parking costs could deter visitors. An analysis conducted by the Chicago Inspector General’s office in 2010 estimated that the city had undersold its parking meter system by nearly $1 billion.

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The Inspector General’s report revealed that the parking meter system was actually worth $2.13 billion, highlighting the fiscal short-sightedness of the city’s decision. However, the financial implications extend beyond just the undervaluation. The deal also included stipulations that forced the city to reimburse CPM for lost revenue due to street closures, disability placards, and other causes.

According to a 2013 report by The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, beyond these obvious financial shortcomings, the adverse consequences for the city over the term of the 75-year lease are nearly incalculable. The city now faces the prospect of taxing its citizens more to compensate a private company for lost profits for three generations.

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Estimating the potential profits for CPM is complex due to many factors, including changes in demand, inflation, and other uncertainties over a 75-year period. However, with the inflated parking rates and the added protections against revenue losses built into the contract, the deal certainly appears to be a financial windfall for the company.

The Chicago parking meter deal stands as an example of a poorly structured privatization agreement with significant financial implications. It underscores the need for thorough financial scrutiny, transparent public debate, and careful consideration of long-term impacts when public assets are being privatized. The financial repercussions of this deal continue to be felt by Chicago’s residents and will persist for decades, a potent reminder of the importance of protecting public interests in municipal decision-making.

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