The average driver spends about 56 hours per year in downtown Chicago looking for parking, and pays more for a metered spot than in other major cities in the country, according to a new study.
Almost 10 years after the controversial deal to privatize Chicago’s parking meters, parking for two hours in the downtown area is $13, according to the study released on Wednesday by Kirkland, Wash.n-based data company INRIX. San Francisco comes in second at $12, while the cost in pricey New York City is just $7.
Chicago ranked third most expensive in the nation for the cost of off-street parking, in garages or lots, at an average of $22 for two hours within a mile of the city center, after New York at $33 and Boston at $26.
"When parking fines, congestion and the difficulty of finding parking are added together, being a motorist in Chicago is costly indeed," said Joe Schwieterman, a transportation expert with DePaul University who reviewed the study. "Chicago’s unusually high fees for parking no doubt encourages people to switch to transit, but they also are a drag on downtown retail and tourism when supply doesn’t meet demand."
Chicago sold its parking franchise to Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, a consortium of private investors, in 2008.
The INRIX report surveyed 6,000 U.S. drivers and another 12,000 in the United Kingdom and Germany. INRIX, which provides real-time traffic and parking information to companies and governments, also used rate data from parking locations and city parking meters.
The report found that Americans spend about $73 billion a year in lost time, emissions and fuel searching for parking, or an average of $345 per person. In Chicago, the cost was $1,174 per year per person.
Chicago ranked sixth in the amount of time drivers spent searching for parking, with New York coming out on top at a whopping 107 hours per year — almost twice as much as Chicago — followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
The report also found that U.S. drivers overpay for parking by about $20 billion annually, of which $400 million is spent in Chicago. To overpay means paying more for parking than one actually needs, such as paying for two hours in a parking garage when your doctor appointment only takes 45 minutes.
In Chicago, the average driver overpays by $353 a year for parking time he or she does not need. The study shows how careful people are to avoid fines, since the average Chicago driver pays only about $35 a year for parking tickets.
The parking problem has consequences for regional economies, the report found. Of all U.S. drivers, 63 percent said they avoided driving to a destination if it was hard to find parking, including 39 percent who said they avoided shopping destinations.
"This is not just a problem for drivers, it’s also a problem for business owners and especially small, local business owners," said Bob Pishue, INRIX senior economist. People driving around looking for parking also adds to congestion and pollution, the study noted.
INRIX, which is in the business of selling data, sees solutions in more education about parking options and better use of technology, so people know what parking is available and only pay for what is needed, Pishue said.
One way to use technology to avoid the search for parking is through parking reservation services like SpotHero. INRIX has partnerships with SpotHero, Parking Panda and the navigation company Waze and other companies to provide parking information.
Another way to use technology to lower costs is to use a smartphone app to add time to a meter if an appointment is running late, instead of putting the maximum time on the meter when you first park. This can be done at Chicago meters through the free app ParkChicago, said Chicago Parking Meters spokesman Scott Burnham.
"Tech-based solutions will alleviate some of the pain in five years," Schwieterman said. "We’re all going to have SpotHero or Parking Panda on our phones."
Investing in more public transit is another way to reduce congestion and parking scarcity, Pishue said.
The INRIX study looked at the personal pain of parking as well as the economic, finding that 61 percent of American drivers say they feel stressed trying to find a spot, 42 percent have missed an appointment, 34 percent have abandoned a trip because of a parking problem and 23 percent have gotten into an argument with another driver over parking.
Almost half of U.S. drivers regarded taking up two parking spaces as the worst parking "sin," twice as many as regarded the incorrect use of a handicapped restricted spot as the worst parking transgression, the study found.
The study also found gender differences in parking, with 64 percent of female drivers preferring off-street parking compared with 51 percent of males. Women were influenced by ease and security, while men were more sensitive to cost and proximity, the study found.
Chicago Tribune’s James Steinbauer contributed.