Just call it a state-supported scam.
Once upon a time, parking enforcement was the purview of meter-maids on scooters tooling from spot to spot.
Today, it is big business.
For example, in 2008, Chicago received $1.15 billion when it signed a 75-year lease with a private outfit called Chicago Parking Meters LLC.
Within a decade, they have already collected revenue greater than their initial payment by jacking up parking fees and zealously enforcing meter times. And please note they have 64 years remaining on the lease.
It seems rather unfair that when folks fall behind in paying this outfit owned by a Wall Street bank and the Middle Eastern emirate of Abu Dhabi, they can have their driver’s licenses suspended by the State of Illinois.
Why should the power of the state be used to benefit a particular money-making enterprise?
Imagine a landlord or credit card company telling someone who has fallen behind on payments that if they don’t pay up, the state will suspend their driver’s license.
Not only would that be unfair, it also wouldn’t make much sense. After all, how is someone supposed to pay what they owe if they don’t have a way to drive to work?
But that is exactly what the State of Illinois does in helping companies and cities collect parking fees.
Illinois is one of 44 states that have policies of suspending driver’s licenses over unpaid fines, fees or court debts.
Last week, the Illinois General Assembly passed a measure that would end the practice of suspending licenses for unpaid parking fines. The measure awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s consideration.
A high percentage of those suspensions affect drivers from low-income, black neighborhoods in Chicago and its suburbs ProPublica Illinois has reported.
Many of those affected have been unable to drive legally for years but do so anyway. If pulled over, they face further fines, fees and even jail time. This can exasperate a cycle of poverty that many spend decades trying to escape.
The bill on the governor’s desk also restores driving privileges for some 55,000 individuals whose licenses are currently suspended.
Passing this measure, is a smart move on the part of lawmakers. And I’m hopeful Pritzker will sign the measure.
But the underlying policy of paid, on-street parking needs to be examined. The practice deters people from doing business in central city locations and places downtown businesses at a disadvantage.
Communities such as Rock Island have moved away from this antiquated practice.
Beginning in 2016, it removed its parking meters and increased the time limit on most downtown parking spots from two to four hours.
Too often, cities have viewed parking policy as merely a means to generate revenue rather than an asset that should be promoted and used to make for a more vibrant, user-friendly community.
Debt-based license suspensions don’t protect or promote safer communities. They are indicative of an intrusive government that is callous toward the most vulnerable among us.
The Illinois Legislature made a step in the right direction by passing this measure. No one should have a license suspended for any non-safety related matter.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and freelance reporter.