Residential parking passes are available at a select few aldermanic offices across the city. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

CHICAGO — Chicago residents are able to purchase residential parking permits in only seven of the city’s 50 ward offices, several aldermen were surprised to learn.

The City Clerk’s office sells the bulk of parking permits for the thousands of residential parking districts across the city, but seven aldermen have worked with the office to purchase the machinery needed to sell the permits at their ward offices.

Chicagoans living in a residential parking zone may also purchase up to 45 24-hour guest passes each month for $24. 

Residents in the 1st, 2nd, 32nd, 35th, 43rd, 44th and 46th wards on the city’s North and Northwest Sides are able to buy permits directly from their aldermen, avoiding a trek to City Hall, City Clerk Anna Valencia said as she defended her office’s $11.8 million 2022 budget request Monday.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) then pressed for more details about how to get permit sales in their own South and Southwest Side ward offices.

Their colleagues warned the service option is a blessing and a curse due to a glitchy database that causes headaches in ward offices.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) pegged the cost of the machine required to print the permits at $7,000, but guessed that’s likely gone up since he purchased one for his office.

While you’re able to purchase a residential parking permit online, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said there are “some pretty significant database and computer hurdles” that prevent online purchasing from being “as seamless as it should be.”

Smith is one of the seven alderpeople that sell residential permits out of their ward office. 

“People get kind of get taken by surprise, especially if they are new to Chicago, they go online to get their guest passes and suddenly at the end of the year they are locked out of the system,” she said. “It really does cause significant amounts of customer dissatisfaction.

“We buy the equipment from you and we use personnel that we pay for, in order to actually staff appropriately,” she said. “That’s why we really ask that this e-commerce issues really be resolved” which “would save everybody time and money.”

Waguespack said his entire office staff and volunteers have been trained to use the machines that “often…go down or at least the connection goes down” because he has a “constant flow of people coming in pretty much all day,” to purchase the permits.

Ald. James Cappleman, who sells the permits at his Uptown office, said his dream is the city adopts system that allows residents to buy their permits online, and cautioned any colleagues thinking of purchasing a machine that “once you do that, you will never be able to stop and I’m not sure how good it is.”

“It takes a lot of office time, a lot of staff time, it’s very complicated,” he said. “I forced my staff to teach me how to do it…it was not easy.”

Hairston and O’Shea said they weren’t aware that service was an option. 

“I would hope that you would make this offer to all of the aldermen that want to provide this service to their constituents, because it’s a great service,” she said.

Valencia said her office is making technology upgrades that will reduce the online frustration and she’d work with any alderpeople that wish to sell permits out of their office.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) suggested scrapping the residential parking program entirely in favor of a graduated city sticker that is more expensive for each car a family owns.

“Many communities have signed up for residential permit parking still find that they have nowhere to go when we know that people are taking advantage of the situation or selling guest passes,” he said.

Valencia touted a program that began at the end of 2019 to offer city stickers at a reduced cost and term to low-income residents who struggled to pay the nearly $100 cost of a one-year sticker. 

The program took off in 2021, with 7,000 vehicles being registered that otherwise wouldn’t have been, bringing in $670,000 in revenue, she said. 

Everyone who purchases a city sticker through the reduced-term option or the traditional one or two year sticker will receive text alerts next year in an effort to “hound people” to renew their stickers, Valencia said.

During the hearing, Valencia said her office is scheduled to launch an overhaul of the City Council’s archaic paper tracking system to bring the legislative process into the 21st century.

A new electronic voting system will be implemented by the end of the year. The City Council’s busiest committees, like the Zoning Committee, will go paperless by the spring with the rest of the committees set to follow by summer. Aldermen will be able to gather co-sponsor signatures and introduce legislation electronically, rather than the current time-consuming paper process, she said. 

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that city stickers could also be purchased in select ward offices.