New York City considers privatizing parking meters

Careful to avoid the mistakes of Chicago, New York considers turning over its parking meters to the private sector.
Written by Sarah Korones, Contributor

New York City is currently contemplating turning over its parking meters to private industry, but officials are treading lightly since the move proved to be somewhat disastrous in other parts of the country.

Nothing specific has been decided just yet, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the city will issue requests in the next few weeks to reflect upon possible buyers.

By turning over its 39,000 parking meters to a private company, New York could stand to gain a significant sum, not to mention a new and improved parking system with meters that could accept payment from credit and debit cards and possibly even smartphones.

But officials remain wary about what New York could lose, perhaps looking at the city of Chicago as an example of how not to undertake the process. The Windy City went private in 2008 when then-mayor Richard Daley granted an investment group a 75-year lease on the city’s meters for an upfront sum of $1.1 billion. While the money covered Chicago’s budget deficit at the time, the city has been suffering from the transaction ever since. Chicago must pay the investors for lost revenue anytime the streets are closed for events and some estimate that these payments will end up costing the city around $11 billion.

New York hopes to avoid at least some of these mistakes by not relinquishing total control over the meters, which made $149 million in revenue in the last year. One possibility for privatization would be to allow vendors to operate the meters in exchange for a percentage of the money they generate.

While privatization could usher in a much-welcomed era of modernized parking meters, many, including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, are extremely critical of the plan.

Aaron Renn, a well-known urban analyst, argues that parking meters are primarily urban planning tools—not capital assets like bridges or highways or public services like trash collection.

He writes in his blog:

Because neighborhood business conditions are dynamic, and because the best rate to charge and even the best use of that real estate (which may not be parking) change over time, this makes parking meters an extremely bad fit for privatization in the style of Chicago.

“What you don't want to do is sign any deal that constrains your ability to change that policy in the future," he tells the Wall Street Journal.

[via WSJ]

Image: Jeramey Jannene/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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