Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fighting Parking Vultures

Last week, 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly sent out an e-mail explaining the latest on his crackdown against rogue valet parking companies.  I was going to digest it and give a summary, but it's been sitting in my in box too long for that, so I'm printing the entire thing verbatim here.  It's just easier that way.

The City Council today unanimously approved Alderman Reilly's legislation that will tighten regulations governing valet operators in the City of Chicago. This new law increases the off-street parking requirement for valet operators by 50% - raising the minimum off-street parking spaces requirement from 10% to 15% of the occupancy of the establishment served. Valet operators must also file a copy of their off-street parking lease with the City - which will be tied to the valet license.  If a parking lease is cancelled by an operator, the valet license is void.
This new city law raises the minimum liability and damage insurance coverage required for valet operators to $1 million and require valet companies to file proof of insurance with the City of Chicago, which must be made available for public inspection. In addition, this measure significantly increases fines for bad operators - doubling and, in some cases, tripling fine amounts for various valet offenses. Below, please find Alderman Reilly's remarks prepared for delivery at City Council:
I am very pleased to report, after many months of hard work and negotiations, that today we secured City Council approval of an ordinance that I crafted to update and enhance Municipal Code
governing one of the least regulated industries in Chicago: the Valet Parking Industry. This ordinance was unanimously approved by the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety in November. Following committee passage, I worked with representatives from the Illinois Restaurant Association to address their concerns related to off-street parking requirements and win their support for
this ordinance. In addition, the Administration, Commissioner Reyes and her city department also support these reforms.
Over the past two months, we've heard a lot about access to on-street metered parking storage, traffic congestion issues and city transportation policy in general. This new ordinance will help
to address each of these concerns. When you spend time downtown - whether it's to dine at one of our superb restaurants, shop along our world-renowned retail corridors or to experience one of our fantastic cultural institutions - chances are, you're competing with a valet parking company for those prized metered parking spots.
What hasn't really been discussed is the fact that during early evening weekday hours and weekends, most downtown metered parking spaces are not available to the taxpayers they're intended to
serve - they are monopolized by valet operators. That's right - many of those metered spaces have been hijacked by one of the many shoddy valet operations that, unfortunately, give the entire industry a bad name. Like any industry there are good operators and there are bad operators. However, it seems, in this industry - one of the least regulated industries in the City - there are as many bad operators as good - when it comes to respect for the public right-of-way and basic compliance with city law. I am confident that most people have personally witnessed the valet abuses that exist today in the City of Chicago:

  • We've all seen the blocks-long double and triple parking that occurs, often blocking one - sometimes two - lanes of traffic on our congested city streets. This practice often clogs major arterial streets and exacerbates existing congestion.
  • Perhaps you've had the pleasure of witnessing what I call the "Valet Piggyback Two-Step" - the practice where one valet parker moves a car out of a metered parking space, only to have it immediately backfilled by another valet parked vehicle. Often several blocks of on-street parking are monopolized in this fashion.
  • Some of you may be familiar with the "Reverse Slalom" - a maneuver adopted by less responsible valet operators that is used on one-way streets. Rather the circle the block to deliver a vehicle to a patron, as a matter of convenience, valet parkers will simple throw the vehicle into reverse and hit the gas to drive backwards, the wrong way on a one-way street!
  • Maybe you - or a friend - received a mysterious parking ticket in the mail - but you are positive that you never received a ticket on your vehicle at that location. As a result, you're forced to perform a forensic investigation - like CSI - which reveals that your vehicle was ticketed while in the care of a valet, unbeknownst to you, of course.
  • These are scenarios that many of us have witnessed personally. I would like to share my own, unique experience with a valet operator that I had a little over a year ago. I was, in effect, offered sale of an on-street parking meter for the bargain-basement price of $10 in cash. That generous offer, of course, was extended to me by none other than a valet operator who claimed the metered spot quote "belonged to his operation."These conditions exist because there is little incentive for this industry to comply with the current, relatively loose regulations on the books. Penalties for violations of current city ordinance are seriously outdated and woefully inadequate deterrents to bad behavior.

As you can imagine, my office handles numerous complaints regarding these operators - and I am not alone as this issue impacts a number of wards throughout the city. That is what led me to review the Municipal Code and prompted me to work with my colleagues to craft these improvements. There are a number of smaller, fly-by-night valet operators in the city of Chicago that do not carry adequate insurance, that consistently fail to comply with current city ordinance and, when fined, simply build those fines into their cost of doing business - rather than correct their business practices.
In many cases, the liability and property damage insurance policies carried by valet operators are significantly lower than the coverage most motorists carry for their vehicles. Increasing these
coverage will work to bridge that gap. Further, I felt it was important that valet operators be required to provide a certificate of insurance to the City of Chicago and ensure that the certificate is kept on file and available for public review.
It may come as a surprise, but this industry also has a problem related to valid driver's licenses. When you drop your car with a valet - you assume that valet has a valid driver's license.  Think twice, that's not always the case.
This proposal would significantly enhance penalties for valet operators who have employees parking vehicles without valid driver's licenses. It is imperative that the penalties for these
offenses be significant, given the extreme risk that driving without a license poses to pedestrians and motorists in Chicago.
The current schedule of fines for general violations to the valet ordinance essentially amounts to a mild slap on the wrist. As a result, we decided to enhance fines for general violations of the valet parking ordinance - which currently range from $50 - $500 per offense. This ordinance would raise those fines to $150 - $1,000 for each offense.
These enhanced penalties will force operators to take these citations more seriously and take corrective action - rather than continuing their bad behavior while simply building these fines into their business model as a simple cost-of-doing business.
Finally, as a result of successful negotiations with the Illinois Restaurant Association and others, we have addressed the issue of the off-street parking requirement for valet operators.
The current off-street parking requirement calls for 10% of the occupancy content of the business to be served by off-street surface lot or garage parking. Judging from conditions today - it was determined that the current requirement was not getting the job done.
Working with the Restaurant Association, we reviewed parking data and statistics to identify an appropriate increase in the off-street parking requirement and settled upon a reasonable and justifiable requirement of 15% to address this issue, without imposing a heavy burden on the industry. That said, this change will mark a 50% increase in the off-street parking requirement for valet operators. Now that this ordinance has become law, we plan to work closely with the Chicago Police Department and Commissioner Reyes to assist with outreach and education of the restaurant and valet industries. And, most importantly, we will work to ensure that this new ordinance is aggressively enforced. If we are to modify this behavior and change these bad habits - rigorous enforcement will be critical. 

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