Orange crunch

Think you have parking ticket woes? Some Chicagoans have practically perfected the art of receiving that annoying little envelope

  • Jeremy Smith, who has paid $3,500 in parking violations the past two years, co-founded parking spot website SpotHero.
Jeremy Smith, who has paid $3,500 in parking violations the past two years,… (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
January 11, 2012|By Mick Swasko, RedEye

Jeremy Smith knows the price of parking in Chicago.

By his estimate, he's shelled out about $3,500 to clear up parking violations the past two years living in Lakeview.

"Some are definitely my fault, but it's also the nature of the system," said Smith, 25, who has spent the funds clearing up tickets, tows and other parking perils. "The signs are confusing, there are multiple restrictions on a street, they put up street cleaning restrictions late. When you don't know how it all works, they are going to get the best of you."

His pain is felt by many Chicagoans who rely on their cars to get around. With an estimated $150 million worth of parking tickets (and 2.5 million violations issued) in the city in 2011, some motorists find the question isn't who else is getting a ticket, but who isn't? And while some services and apps have sprung up to help those with chronic parking headaches, the amount of money and time spent on the ticket tango certainly isn't shrinking. Fees and fines in the city jumped Jan. 1, with hikes for matters from meter rates to city sticker charges.

Parking in the Loop? That will be $11.50 for two hours, and $10 more on top of a $50 ticket for exceeding the meter. No residential parking pass? That will be $75, up from $60 in previous years. 2012 also brings plans for higher city sticker fees, as well as an extra $2 "congestion tax" to park in Chicago lots and garages.

Not being quick enough to grab a residential parking pass is a plight familiar to Allison Crump, who said she still could hear the engine clicking the day she found a ticket on her car. She had just returned from getting the pass from a friend, she said, when she asked the officer nearby if it could be voided.

But the 30-year-old Ukrainian Village resident was out of luck.

"He said, 'There's nothing I can do; you should tell her to hurry up," said Crump, who over a calendar year amassed 15 tickets for what appeared to be an expired registration but was actually a printer error.

"I feel like there are other ways they could get more revenue than just giving a ticket or targeting people," Crump said.

For Ian Lumsden, 19, of Logan Square, confusing parking restrictions and signage earned him two tickets in his first month in the city and led him to send the vehicle back home to Iowa.

"It was really discouraging actually," he said. "I didn't have a job and didn't have a lot of money. It was really stressful to be slammed with $100 in the first week of being here."

For now, Lumsden said he's been getting around the city by bike and CTA.

"It's kind of a luxury," he said of owning a car in the city. "It's just easier to take public transit or ride a bike."

But after being ticketed, booted and towed, Smith said an idea was born to fight back. As he continued to pay tickets that were his fault—and contest the ones he said were not—he assisted in founding the website SpotHero, a parking spot finder to help those who still want to drive but don't want to risk a ticket. "We're trying to come back and say, 'It shouldn't be this hard to park,'" he said. "People have options so they can enjoy the city and go where they need to without hassle."

Smith said the site works to secure publicly and privately owned parking spots across the city and sells them to drivers looking for a guaranteed space for the day. The site has gained loyal users, he said, and in December it won the $10,000 prize in the Apps for Metro Chicago Grand Challenge, a citywide contest put on by the Metro Chicago Information Center.

"You just leave [your car] and do whatever the hell you need to do," Smith said. "I want people to know that they have options. They don't have to feel that there is always somebody out to get them."

Despite her parking plights, Crump said she understands the need for the city to collect revenue from motorists. But a little leniency, and cutting red tape, might make things easier, she said.

"The tickets I get seem to be for things I can't anticipate, like taking four whole minutes to get a zoned parking pass," she said. In the past, she's contested other tickets only to have notices get lost in the mail, doubling the fine and the wallop on her wallet. "I think that a parking spot is going to be a requirement for my next apartment."

mswasko@tribune.com | @mickswasko

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