By Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune 

 

The item in my column last Sunday about the exorbitantly punitive fines Chicago levies on those like me who fail to renew their city vehicle stickers on time seemed to strike a nerve with so many readers that I decided to ask all the mayoral candidates about it.

To sum up: Those who don’t renew their $87 annual vehicle stickers on time are subject to a $60 late fee and $200 parking tickets, which are sometimes issued multiple times in one day and which more than double if not paid quickly. The amounts are way out of line with similar fines in suburbia and other major Midwestern cities. And, as outlined in a recent joint investigation by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ as well as in a report from Chicago’s Woodstock Institute, low-income people, African-Americans in particular, suffer disproportionately.

They “become trapped in an inescapable cycle of debt simply because they lack the means to pay these tickets,” concluded “The Debt Spiral,” a June white paper from the Woodstock Institute. “Indebtedness, bankruptcy and loss of one’s ability to drive have long-lasting negative impacts on the economic and social well-being of Chicago communities. The city must take steps to fix this broken system.”

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