In the coming months, all parking in the Naperville Commuter Rail parking lots will transition to a daily fee.
The Naperville City Council voted Tuesday to eliminate the parking permit system at the Route 59 and Naperville/Fourth Avenue Metra stations and require commuters to pay only for the days they park.
City officials said the move will optimize parking in parking lots and ensure fair access for all commuters.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the frequency of people’s commutes to Chicago, city officials were working to solve the problem of no-go spaces in permit lots.
No new Naperville commuter parking permits are being issued immediately.
In the coming months, staff will bring changes to the municipal code for council to review with the goal of implementing a daily plate fee model in July.
Quarterly permits will be valid until the end of 2023, giving permit holders time to adapt to the new program while freeing up unoccupied permit slots to be used by other passengers who do not have a quarterly permit.
Not all residents accept the changes. Naperville commuter Michael Hackett told the council it took his family 10 years to get a parking permit in 2008, and he’s not ready for the city to do away with the system.
“It’s a convenience that I like and that I need,” Hackett said.
He doesn’t want to go back to the days of juggling schedules and leaving his car early to secure a parking spot when he catches a train later in the morning.
Councilwoman Teresa Sullivan said she and her husband also did “crazy gymnastics” when they worked downtown and her children were in daycare.
“It was crazy, and the problem was we didn’t have a parking permit,” said Sullivan, who has worked to address the commuter parking problem since joining the council in 2019.
Permit parking is an outdated system because people don’t have to wait 10 years to get a permit, she said. The daily charge system must be flexible enough to deal with parking when rail ridership increases.
“This is the first step in giving us the flexibility to make sure that anyone who wants to drive or wants to take the train downtown from Naperville now has the ability to park instead of the ‘Hunger Games’ that we’ve lived with for years that was just real problem,” Sullivan said.
Jennifer Lowden, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development, said the decision was not taken lightly.
“We understand that there are many people who still rely on these permits, and this represents a significant change,” Lowden said.
By switching to a license plate payment model, passengers will not have to remember where they parked that day. They will use their own number plate as an identifier.
Lowden said four machines at the main station and five on Route 59, as well as a pay-by-phone app and call-by-phone system ― will support the change.
The city now has more parking than it needs for commuters, she said.
If demand returns, the city may consider implementing additional technology, such as a parking management and reservation system, Lowden said.
The staff has not yet determined the cost of the daily fees.
Since the revenue from the parking fee pays for the maintenance of suburban areas, the fee should cover these costs.
Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor said one issue is whether the city will offer discounts to people who commute four or five times a week.
Lowden said that while the city can’t offer discounts to individuals, one option could be a discount on certain days when ridership is lower, such as Mondays or Fridays.
Naperville resident Paul Biles, in a letter to the council, urged the city to refund the fees to those waiting for parking permits.
It has two deposits for the Kroehler and Burlington/Parkview lots near the Naperville main station.
“Administrative or not, these deposits were made in good faith that permits would be issued when they were,” he wrote.
In its Commuter Connection, city officials said the waitlist fee is a non-refundable administrative fee, not a deposit, so it will not be refunded.
Anyone with questions about the change to daily parking fees can contact the city at 630-420-6100 and select option 4 or by email email@example.com.
Elise Crowley, a Naperville resident with a permit to park on Route 59, said in a letter to the council that she drives five days a week.
“First-come, first-served seating always favors the very people whose work schedules start earlier. That’s like saying we’re always going to hand out leftover cupcakes in alphabetical order,” Crowley said.
The plan would increase costs in time, money and convenience for those who use the parking lot the most, and provide only modest benefits and access to nearby spaces for those who use it less often, she said.