Setting the Record Straight on Chicago Parking Meter Privatization

I’ve written extensively on this blog on the $1.15 billion lease of Chicago’s parking meter system, and my new column offers a perspective on the issue that seems to be missing from the bulk of the media reporting.

As I discuss, early operational challenges and citizen frustration over parking rate increases coalesced to politicize the deal and invite tremendous media scrutiny and no lack of detractors, but the zeal to demonize the deal seems to have distracted focus from not only the overall benefits of the deal to the city, but also from the tremendous operational improvements and system investment we’ve seen in recent months as the still-young, six month old initiative moves forward.

The operational improvements and significant capital investmentâ??as one example, the concessionaire is on track to complete the entire meter system replacement this year, two years ahead of scheduleâ??are highlighted in my article.

I also add some perspective regarding a controversial June report issued by the city’s Inspector General claiming that the city could have gotten a higher bid value. As I blogged here, the IG’s analysis seemed inconsistent with the asset valuation approaches we routinely see in the marketplace and ignored a number of critical factors that gave the illusion that the system was worth more than the $1.15 billion the city received.

In the new article, I include further discussion of this topic by highlighting a report from William Blair & Company, the city’s financial advisor, that offers what I found to be a robust and thorough critique of the IG report, and an excellent explication of how the city went about ensuring that it would receive the best and highest bid. I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in parking meter privatization read this valuable analysis, which is available on the city’s website here.

In additional news on the Chicago parking meter front, the city has also posted a retraction from a local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group, the Active Transportation Alliance, that had issued a critical report earlier this year on the parking meter lease. According to the letter from ATA executive director Rob Sadowsky, “I would like to simply state that we should not have published this report. I am embarrassed that it not only contains factual errors, but that it also paints an incorrect interpretation of the lease’s overall goals.” For more details, see the full letter here, and for more of the city’s information resources, see this Chicago Department of Revenue parking meter resource page.

For more on parking meter privatization, see here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2009
Reason Foundation’s Privatization Research and Commentary