Credit: Jamie Ramsay

One of the pleasures of Sundays in Chicago in the not-so-very long ago was piling into the family car, tooling up (or down) Lake Shore Drive into the heart of the city, and parking just about anywhere, for as long as you liked, without so much as a nod in the direction of a parking meter.

Those days are gone. It now costs $6.50 an hour to park in the Loop on Sunday and every other day of the week; $4 an hour out of the Loop, but within the “central district” bounded by Roosevelt, North Avenue, and Halsted; and $2 an hour at meters in neighborhood commercial districts.

We’re paying the highest rates for street parking in the nation—and the really bad thing is, that isn’t even the worst of it.

What sucks the most about having to hunt down a paybox on a Sunday and surrender your credit card to it (or punching up a prepaid mobile app) is the hideous specter it’ll summon of Mayor Richard M. Daley and his infamous parking privatization deal of 2008 (extensively covered in the Reader by Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke).

That was when, with startling alacrity, Daley whisked an agreement through the deeply slumbering City Council that leased all 36,000 of Chicago’s parking meters to a private group that seemed to be mostly Morgan Stanley but turned out to include, among mysterious others, German financiers and the government of Abu Dhabi.

So now when the paybox does its little happy dance and siphons money out of your bank account, your cash—instead of filling the city coffers—is heading to more exotic locations, like the UAE.

And will be for the rest of your foreseeable future, because the lease runs for another 65 years.

Once the meters were privatized, rates skyrocketed, free Sunday parking disappeared, and the public noticed that they’d been royally screwed. Daley decided this would be a good time to retire; in a remarkable coincidence, he landed a cushy new job with the very same law firm that had facilitated the meter deal.

Rahm Emanuel, running to succeed Daley, promised to remedy this disaster, but then a weird thing happened: when activists challenged it in court, Mayor Emanuel’s city lawyers wound up arguing in the lease’s defense. The only change Emanuel made was a 2013 amendment that extended meter hours, provided free Sunday parking at neighborhood meters, and had the unfortunate likely side effect of making any further legal challenges unlikely. A year later, the City Council reinstated Sunday fees on major neighborhood streets, after business owners complained that a lack of turnover in parking spots was making it hard for Sunday customers to get to them.  v