The company that manages Evanston’s parking garages says the city is under-pricing both garage and on-street parking by millions of dollars a year.

Daniel Lassiter of Central Parking System presented a study to the Transportation/Parking Committee Wednesday night suggesting Evanston could raise nearly $1 million in additional revenue by adjusting hourly rates in the garages, while keeping the maximum daily rate the same.

And he suggested raising parking meter rates downtown from the current 75-cents an hour to between $1 and $1.50, with the lower rate charged around the edge of the downtown area.

The report didn’t estimate how much money the higher meter rates would generate.

But city staff says the city has roughly 1,200 parking meters downtown which are said to be almost fully occupied during the business day.

Assuming eight hours of usage a day on weekdays, increasing meter rates to an average of $1.25 might yield $1.2 million in additional revenue per year.

The report included data on meter rates charged in 2008 in 38 major cities and said they averaged $1.23 per hour. Lassiter added that several of those cities have increased their rates since.

The committee’s chair, Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said most people don’t compare Evanston rates to major cities, but to nearby suburbs like Skokie and Wilmette where parking costs less or is free.

“Looking at it as an alderman, the idea of increasing parking meter rates to $1 an hour would face a lot of community resistance,” Wynne said.

Lassiter’s proposal would eliminate the first-hour-free promotion in the garages, but by raising nearby meter rates to $1.50 an hour, a fee of $2 for two hours of garage parking would still be substantially less than the cost of parking on the street.

Parking Committee member Vera Chatz, who lives in a downtown condo, said the current two-hour limit for on-street parking is insufficient.

“We have lots of hair salons and restaurants,” Chatz said, “and the ideal would be to allow three-hour parking on the street so someone could have their hair done and go to a restaurant wihtout fidgeting about the parking meter expiring.”

Local business owner Paul Giddings said that with current meters, a higher rate would be a problem.

“We’ve got to get away from someone having to bring eight quarters to downtown,” Giddings said. “That’s the most irritating. I keep turning to the right with all the quarters in my pocket.”

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said new revenue from higher rates could fund bonds that could pay for new parking devices that would let people pay with credit or debit cards rather than a stack of quarters and would also give the city more flexibility in setting meter time limits.

Lyons said the money could also be used to fund a more aggressive marketing program to bring shoppers into the downtown area.

The city plans to launch an experiment next week with a solar-powered “pay-and-display” parking machine on the south side of the 600 block of Clark Street.

It will permits payment with coins or credit cards, Rickey Voss, the city’s parking system manager said.

The machine is being provided by its manufacturer for a two-month test at no charge to the city, Voss added.

One limitation of the solar-powered device is that it doesn’t produce enough power to operate machinery to accept dollar bills.

Those systems, Voss said, require an external electric power source, which raises installation and operating costs.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said increasing meter rates would be “a very poor idea.”

Fiske, who operates a pet supply store in the 1000 block of Davis Street, said “I’m not sure where the problem areas are downtown, but I know that west of the tracks there’s so much open parking it’s alarming.”

“Revenue for is down and people are working very hard to keep their businesses open,” she said. “If we raise rates, we’ll get a ton of complaints about driving people away.”

But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said “We need to get rid of the meters” and use the multi-space pay boxes.

“If I swipe a card I don’t think about the money. Carrying that change around is unbelievably ridiculous.”

The problem, Burrus suggested, isn’t the money, it’s the method people have to use to pay, although she added that she doesn’t necessarily want to raise meter rates.

Current and proposed garage rate data from CPS report:

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. CPS assumptions flawed

    While there is lots to make noise about in this story, the data analysis is the most disturbing.

    How would anyone assume that current garage users of the free first-hour would all continue to use the garage at the same usage rate!? $600,000 in revenue growth is assumed to come from charging people $2 for the first hour. This is never going to be the result.

    Also, Marty Lyons' ideas of raising rates and then using the money to fund the purchase of equipment that would not be necessary if the rates were not raised makes little sense, as does, to some extent, the idea that you chase people from downtown with high parking rates and then take the dollars you get from those rates to try to market the now-less-attractive downtown!

    Downtown Evanston is much more vibrant that in the mid-eighties, when (even) more storefronts were empty and street life was much quieter. In those days parking and parking fees were a major worry and the old Sherman Avenue garage was unattractive to parkers.

    Much of this story seems like deja vu except for the fact that our downtown is surviving this downturn better than the last one and much better than places like downtown Skokie. If you look at the data, that's partially because we have the 6 to 12 hour parkers–the commuters who work in our downtown –and the 12 to 24 hours parkers– the residents who live downtown. Keep Evanston an attractive environment to a range of businesses and the businesses and the city will survive downturns and flourish in the good times.

    1. Agreed on the assumption of first hour parkers

      I agree with your statement that assuming all 0-1 hour parkers would still park in the garages and pay $2 seems flawed.  Some may, but I think many also only park in the garage then because it is free for the 30 minutes or so they might need.

      Would they rather try to park on-street instead at $0.75/hr… or even an increased $1.00 /hr or $1.50/hr.  I would think so… assuming the market supported those increased rates in those areas.  I think they would do that, and continue driving around and around the block in search of an open space and we might find that available on-street parking that is cheaper than off-street parking would be in very short supply.  Does it drive people who can't find parking away or into garages?  Parking on-street should be more expensive than off-street, but not so much that its unbalanced with the demand and drive away customers.

  2. Yeah, that’s great, raise the

    Yeah, that's great, raise the prices of parking and strangle the downtown business area.

    Just take a look at what that fool Ald. Tunney did in Chicago. After he approved the parking meter lease deal, he cried to everyone months later that no-one shopped or dined in his Ward any more and shops were in trouble. Big surprise!

  3. Parking Increase

    "Underpricing" compared to what?  The article states major cities as a comparison but is that the correct comparison?  Where is the logic in increasing parking fees in order to pay for more parking meters/equipment and to "bring shoppers into the downtown area"?  There is nothing wrong with the current equipment which I believe was just upgraded less than two years ago.  Also, raising parking fees would be a disincentive for shoppers to come to the downtown area.

  4. Pricing Parking and Economics 101

    Economics 101 tells us that the price of something should be reflective of the demand and supply of the good.

    In the Downtown Plan it is acknowledged that the parking requirements for residential buildings should be reduced because of excessive supply.  The Multi-modal Transportation Plan says that "there is a surplus of parking in the downtown area.  The surplus of parking results in a waste of resources." (Section 8-5)

    The Transport Plan also reveals that Downtown is the most over-supplied business district in the city for car parking.

    When you have an excessive supply of something, the normal economic response is to lower the price–not raise it.

  5. Test all these ideas first

    Test all these ideas first before you commit to using any of them. 

    Try boxes on just one street. Try increased rates on just one street.

    Try decreased rates on another street. Randomly change them after a month

    Then look at the data and decide from there. 

    Do not rush into any untested strategy. The city of Chicago with it's outrageous rates has not exactly endeared many people, and the economists note that the city also screwed itself by selling out too soon.


  6. Wilmette thanks you CPS for

    Wilmette thanks you CPS for this fine WILMETTE retail sales enhancement program.

    Why not enhance our sales in Wilmette even more recommending increasing parking fines to go along with the higher parking rates.  Hell, why not do pre-emptive booting.  At these parking rates it figures everyone will fail to pay at some point so why not boot them in advance.  

    Increasing parking rates in Evanston in the midst of retail recession is a daft suggestion even for a parking operator.

    1. Wilmette also thanks Evanston for the bag ordinance

      Jewel and Walgreens on Greenbay I'm sure will thank Evanston for the new business.  Dominicks will of course suffer since even if the cost is small, people will want to avoid the hassle.  Already I know people who live within a block of Dominicks instead go to Jewel.  I'm sure this will make it worse.

      BTW I always bring my own plastic bags.

  7. Too much free commuter pkg

    While the taxpaying residence of Evanston pay sticker fees to park in front of their homes or to shop downtown at meters, there seems to be abundant free street parking for commuters who park, ride and leave with little benefit to the city.  Another revenue opportunity missed.  If these areas had fee/ sticker parking enforcement  it  doesn't seem so unfair… and just maybe these free loaders might park in the city's ill used garage.

  8. Here is a secret way to get Free Unlimited Downtown Parking!

    There is a very  easy way to get free unlimited parking downtown:

    Ride a bike.

    Although there needs to be more bike racks, you can lock your bike to parking meters, streetlights, etc… for nothing.

    Just switch the type of vehicle you're using.

    1. Evanston Bike Unfriendly

      I know the city thinks it is bike friendly but it is not. 

      Try biking down Lincoln [and avoiding the potholes] while cars race past well over the speed limit and seem to see how close they can come to the biker.

      Noyes got 'No Bikes on Sidewalks' on the south side and then from the CTA to Sherman—who called in the 'clout?'.  Try riding down Noyes from the CTA to Sheridan with narrow lanes and cars coming so close to any bike along the street.  Downtown definitely needs the 'No Bikes on Sidewalk' but NU and other students ignore it and I've never seen the police stop anyone.  Thus the people to ignore it downtown will ride carelessly on any other walk like Noyes.  Perhaps NU and the public schools could do more to educate student before they become adults in their spandex suits racing through Evanston streets.  But then again NU students even walking don't seem to know right from left, from center to weaving back and forth and that four across on a sidewalk really causes passing problems—from either direction.  Hopefully the NU can better inform the little Princes and Princesses of the rules of the road [walks].

      Then all over you have people opening doors without ever looking.

      Yes there are bikers who pay no attention to stop signs, other trafffic and ride too fast but they will do the same on the streets.  Those who ride carefully on the walks to save their lives, will always be careful.

      1. Northwestern does inform

        Northwestern does inform students of Evanston bike laws, and police officers do stop and issue tickets to cyclists riding on bike-free sidewalks. 

      2. Bike infrastructure needs improvement

        I agree that the city's bike infrastructure needs serious improvement.  The biggest obstacle to cycling is the perception of safety. 

        The city purposefully builds and designs most of its streets for cars rather than for all vehicular users.

        Just go to Denmark or Holland to see proper bike infrastructure.  If you build it people will use it.  The more cyclists there are, the safer it is for all vehicles.

  9. Adjust rates for improved utilization, not increased revenue

    Parking should not be viewed only as a revenue source.  Rather, parking rates should be used to control utilization of parking.  In some locations downtown, I think the rates should be increased because little to no parking is available (consideration should be given though to whether investments for improved payment technology to avoid pain of carrying too many quarters are worthwhile).  Other locations should see lower parking rates because the spaces aren't being utilized enough.  Rates could vary by location and time of day.  Some places have plenty of spaces during the day (lower the rates), but little to none available at night (raise them).  Having appropriate rates in balance with the demand in order to provide 1 or 2 open spaces on each block face should be the goal.  The rates and utilization can be monitored every quarter or so to see if they need to be adjusted.

    People get upset when rates increase, including businesses, residents, and visitors… I get that.  However, if the rates are balanced to match demand, then someone is using the spaces and likely shopping/eating/whatever nearby and not avoiding the area.  To say that increased rates will strangle downtown isn't necessarily true… as long as the rates and demand are balanced.

    With respect to revenue, covering our costs should be the goal… not looking for ways to increase revenue for the general fund.  I think one reason people get upset about parking rates going up is nobody knows where exactly that goes and they don't see direct benefits.  If I own a business and parking rates go up… I want to be sure that parking outside is still busy (customers are still there), spaces are turning over and generally available (people can find parking if they are driving), and that the increased revenue is going back into the area.  I'd like to see any increase in parking revenue get put right back into the business district that generated it.  For example, increased revenue in parking downtown, beyond covering our costs, could go towards new bicycle racks, streetscape improvements, bus shelters, downtown marketing, or whatever else can provide a direct benefit to downtown businesses and residents.  Same for Central Street, Dempster/Chicago, Main Street, or anywhere else.

    My final point is that on-street parking should be equal to, or more expensive than, parking in a garage in areas that are well served by a garage.  I'm not sure exactly where to draw the line on the distance from a garage where it is no longer a legitimate parking option vs. on-street, but studies have shown that if on-street parking is cheaper or not equitable to off-street options, people drive often drive around and around, contributing to traffic issues, in search of cheaper parking.  On average in some New York City neighborhoods, approximately 30% of the traffic driving around was in search of parking.  Not saying Soho and Park Slope are the same as here, but I think you get the general point.  If parking on-street is cheaper than off-street, there is no incentive to parking in a garage unless you are parking for longer than two hours.

    My two cents.

  10. There are very very few

    There are very very few places in downtown evanston that entice me enough to "deal" with the parking–the driving around to find a spot and then the outrageous meter prices.

    Have you been to skokie lately.  There are meters that charge a nickel!!!!!!  We don't eat downtown very often, who wants to keep their eyes on their watches while socializing with friends.  come on guys…..just stop spending.

    We don't need all those silly signs and banners.  a million dollar bathroom…are you kidding me????  A dollar saved here and there adds up.  Stop nickel and diming the residents and start tightening your belts.

    Before you sign another contract or stupid feasibility study, ask the question is this absolutely necessary?  If not, save it for when we are flush.  If we all followed our home budgets like our government…federal, state and local, all of us would be in the red.  Follow common sense:  got money…spend it (or here's a novel idea) save it.  don't got money…don't spend it.  result…balanced budget.  just my opinion…….

  11. DO NOT Get Multi-Space Pay Boxes for Evanston

    The multi-space pay boxes in Chicago are terrible.  You have to hike half a block to pay, they're often broken, they don't always accept credit cards (because they're broken), and they're hard to operate, especially for infrequent visitors.

    The meters in Evanston that accept credit cards work great.  So just get those and forget about the multi-space boxes.  The multi-space boxes take the very simple concept of a parking meter and turn it into a ridiculously complex affair.


    1. Multi_space Boxes Work Fine to Me

      I don't know where you have been parking in Chicago but I've parked there probably more than a hundred times since the changeover and not once have I had a pay box not work, not a single time. 

      1. I’ve never heard walking half

        I've never heard walking half a block referred to as a "hike." Maybe it's because I live in Chicago.

  12. Parking is such a dull

    Parking is such a dull topic. The real money is in videotaping cars who do not properly pull aside for EMS vehicles on Chicago Ave. (Who instead choose to come to a stop in the middle of the lane.) These violators could be videotaped with cameras onoard the EMS vehicle, and $500 tickets could be mailed to them. That would probably fund the city pension.

  13. Let Merchants Decide

    Why rely on Central Parking? How do they get paid? Ask the downtown merchants what would be best for business. Evanston needs to support business development not continue to punish people trying to use downtown services. You want to balance the budget, outsource parking enforcement and get the current employees out of this silly unfundable municipal employee pension system.

  14. Parking analysis establishes revolutionary new Economics concept

    Well I learned something today.  According to the parking lot operator's analysis parking usage is the same regardless of price.  I am so glad we have learned this.  Now that we know this heretofore hidden and totally unique  characteristic of parking we can balance the budget: For one week each year parking rates will be $65,000 for the first hour and $130,000 for all subsequent hours.  Hooray, balanced budget!

    Now please don't you dull economists ruin this by introducing big words like "price elasticity of demand"


  15. Real Life Example

    My family and I are members of the LA Fitness Gym.  We pay around $50 per month for our membership.  We are able to park in the garage, use the gym and validate our ticket in under an hour and therefore pay nothing to use the garage.  If this proposal goes through, each trip to the Gym now costs $2.  If we use the Gym 4 times per week, the effective cost of our gym membership goes from $50 per month to $82 per month.

    My response:  our family would switch to a Bally Fitness membership.  The location on Howard and Clark has ample free parking and is roughly equidistant from our home. If enough other gym members make the same decision, LA Fitness will close the location and Evanston will have more vacant retail/commercial space on its hands. Perhaps this leads to the bankruptcy of the landlord of that commercial space and now the City is not collecting any real estate taxes on the property.

    This is just one example of how this proposal would affect one business in downtown Evanston.  Now multiply that by the dozens or hundreds of other businesses or offices in the downtown district.



    1. How much usage now ?

      In response to a comment about parking for the Tilted Kilt, someone responded that they never see the Sherman Plaza more than half full.  Raising the rates won't help that.

    2. ride your bike

      If you ride your bike to the gym, eventually, you won't even need the gym membership!  Save your money, ditch the car.

      1. Goooooood idea. Additionally,

        Goooooood idea. Additionally, people need to stop boohooing about riding bikes in the winter. The city does a great job at clearing the roads of snow.

  16. Switch Rather than Pay

    With the last round of rate increases, I modified my behavior.  I used to almost daily visit downtown Evanston for a coffee and pastry and other errands (LeMoi hardware, for example). 

    Rarely do I venture into downtown Evanston anymore.  Instead of Panera on Sherman, I park free and use Panera in Wilmette.  As an example of restuarants, I've come to love Kabul House – formerly an Evanston business now in downtown Skokie – for the great food and the convenience of free parking nearby. 

    I recognize Evanston has a vibrant downtown – but no longer with the help of my patronage. 

    To pay several dollars for parking to get a meal at the Golden Olympic when I can easily park for free next to the Ridgeview Grill is silliness.  I meet business associates for lunches outside Evanston whenever possible now.

    Of course, I did the same when Chicago privatized its parking and increased rates.  Quicken is so sweet. With it I analyzed my spending.  I used to spend about $5,000/year at Chicago restaurants.  I'm now averaging less than $800/year because I no longer take clients and guests to venues in the City but instead venture into burbs with free parking.  I used to spend a substantial amount of money at Pete Miller's (meals there aren't inexpensive.)  Other communities are instead benefiting from these dining dollars now.

    For business I find myself in Oak Park a lot.  I notice they provide the lead example that Evanston tends to follow.  I've reduced my spending in Oak Park because their parking has gotten stupidly expensive relative to options elsewhere.

    Parking fees in Evanston have become a significant disincentive to supporting local businesses.  Increasing them only raises the disincentive.  Evanston needs to figure a better way to manage parking space availability than following Chicago and Oak Park. 

    How many others are, like me, finding reasons to take business elsewhere rather pay the excessive parking fees downtown? 

    The heavy hand of government regulation over parking is choking the private commercial success of Evanston.

    1. “The heavy hand of government

      "The heavy hand of government regulation"??? You do realize that the governments in the suburbs subsidize parking in various ways, right? What do you think parking requirements are? What do you think city-backed bonds for parking garages are? Those are all subsidies. You really think parking anywhere is free? Someone has to pay to build and maintain parking, but when a community offers people like you "free" parking, it means that they pay for it, not you.

      In addition, I'm curious to know what you pay in gas costs. Driving to Oak Park instead of Evanston or Chicago just because there those places don't have free parking must cost something.

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