Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Wake-Up Call: Parking meter monitors

As Denver struggles to close its budget gap, ideas are flying. In his monthly e-mail to constituents, Doug Linkhart, an at-large member of Denver City Council, offers this: "How can a bunch of quarters help fill our $120 million budget gap? By doing what Chicago recently did, and letting someone else manage our parking meter collections.... Earlier this year the city of Chicago sold the management and revenue stream for its parking meters to a private business for $1.2 billion.... Denver's meter revenues are somewhat smaller than Chicago's, at about $9 million per year, roughly 40% of Chicago's. If we could find a similar buyer, for even $300 million, we could also invest part of the money, use some to cover our deficit and perhaps set part of it aside in an innovation fund for employee ideas for saving money in the future."

The concept sounds good. Not only would it bring in some cash, but privatizing meters would also remove a major city headache. Don't count your quarters yet, though. Within a month of the very hasty privatizing of Chicago's system, citizens were howling over overnight parking-fee increases and broken meters that couldn't handle the load -- and the Chicago Reader was publishing an amazing series on how the deal went down, why the city could have collected four times as much for an asset it sold for a century... and who profited from the scheme. Read it here.

A clue: It wasn't the residents of Chicago.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun