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Budget Proposal Increases Parking Tax

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as part of his first budget proposal, may enact a new tax on parking garages in the Downtown and River North areas of Chicago.  The new parking premium of $2 per day is designed to cut down on downtown congestion as well as build new revenue to invest in existing “L” stations, new rapid transit bus stations, expanded bike lanes, and other efforts to address downtown congestion, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Parking lots such as Loop Auto Parks lot may see an increase in parking tax. Photo by Chelsea Tomala.

The proposal, released Wednesday, outlines Emanuel’s plan to decrease Chicago’s $635.7 million budget deficit.  The parking tax is part of the mayor’s plan for investments, financing and growth, which, in total, would create $238 million in new revenue for the city.  The congestion premium is estimated to bring in $28 million.

Drivers would pay $2 “per occasion” for a total fee of $5 on top of the tier rate, or a $3 tax on weekends, as the new tax does not apply on those days.  This additional tax is an effort to cut down on traffic and congestion in the crowded downtown area where drivers already pay high prices for parking.

“Now I’ll have less money to spend on my daily activities,” said Aaron Hickman, a South Side resident, who waiting for his order at Harold’s Chicken Shack on Wabash Street.  “I’m less likely to come downtown now.”

Hickman, who parked in a garage near the restaurant, said he may try to avoid parking in garages, opting for street parking or riding the train.

Maurice Ashkar, an employee at Harold’s Chicken, parks in a nearby lot each workday.  “I drive down here and have a monthly pass. I don’t know how [the tax] will affect me,” Ashkar said.

In fact, weekly and monthly passes will also have an increased tax according to Emanuel’s proposal.  Weekly parking fees $60 and above could see a tax increase from $15 to $25 and monthly parking where the cost is $240 and above will see a tax increase from $60 to $100.

Park One Chicago, which has 35 Downtown or River North locations, was not aware the tax was proposed, according a woman who answered the phone at their main Chicago office.

“We just pass it on to the customers,” she said, but refused to provide her name.

She also added that they assumed this tax was only for SUVs, referring to another part of the proposal which would cause vehicle sticker fees for larger vehicles such as trucks and SUVs to increase $55 under the idea that “big cars and trucks need to help for the damage they do to our streets,” according to the press release.

A spokesman for Millennium Garages, the largest downtown underground parking system in the United States, declined to comment through a public relations firm.

Others are worried that the tax will prevent people from traveling to the downtown area altogether.

Mike Torelli, a student at Depaul, drives to class every day from his home in Orland Park.

“Financially, as a college student, it’s going to be terrible,” Torelli said. “It almost makes me not want to go to school in the city.”

Alberto Johnson, a parking attendant at a garage on State and Balbo, streets said garages will lose money.

“We’re definitely going to lose business for this,” he said.

Robin McNeil, 49, a cashier at a garage, is worried that drivers are not going to travel downtown anymore.

“They still ain’t gonna solve nothing,” he said.

The mayor’s press office did not respond to an email or telephone call seeking comment.

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