OIG Publishes Audit of City’s Loading Zone and Disabled Parking Sign Processes

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released an audit of the City’s loading zone and residential disabled parking sign application processes.

The loading zone and disabled parking sign processes are managed by multiple City players. In 2013, site surveys, billing, and installation of loading zones were carried out by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT). For disabled parking signs, site surveys and billing were carried out by the Department of Finance (DOF) while installation was carried out by CDOT. Both types of sign requests are reviewed and approved by aldermen via City Council ordinance.

Based on available 2013 data, OIG found that the City took an average of 337 and 207 days to fulfill loading zone and disabled parking requests respectively. CDOT management explained that it targets 365 days for completion of a loading zone sign request. CDOT noted a number of factors that may impact the sign installation process including the uniqueness of each sign and the non-standardized application forms maintained by individual aldermen. The installation and repair of public safety signs also takes precedence over loading zone signs. The 337 days includes 97 which OIG could not fully analyze because the application was in City Council.

DOF did not have defined time goals for disabled parking sign installation. However, about half of the 207 days were spent at City Council while it took another 84 days for CDOT to install the sign.

In examining the loading zone sign process OIG found that the City,

  • failed to collect $3.9 million, or 59.9% of the recurring loading zone fees invoiced in 2013, including amounts due from previous years;
  • does not have a standardized process to maintain loading zone applications and did not maintain complete data for 88.4% of installations;
  • miscalculated initial sign installation fees. In a sample of 95 applications, this resulted in overpayment of $10,550 in fees;
  • did not segregate the billing and collecting functions for loading zone application fees;

Among other commitments, CDOT states it will undertake “a more accurate inventory of loading zone billings,” including working with DOF to place holds on business licenses associated with past due loading zone invoices. CDOT will also work with aldermen to create a standard loading zone application.

In examining the disabled parking sign process OIG found that the City,

  • collected 100% of installation fees for disabled parking signs, but failed to collect approximately 10% of annual $25 renewal fees resulting in $3,250 of uncollected fees.

In its response, DOF states that it has implemented controls to ensure future billing errors are identified. It also commits to working with City Council to identify potential process improvements in the application procedure.

A Mayoral press release in June 2012 and a 2013 internal proposal for restructuring the loading zone process describe many of the same problems that OIG identified. That proposal also lays out a process that would relieve legislators of the administrative burdens of the current program and place it under transportation professionals working holistically as is done in most major municipalities in the U.S. and abroad.

“The audit revealed the City’s loading zone sign program to be an anachronistic legacy of the old Chicago ripe for a generational upgrade,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “Its needless administrative and organizational compartmentalization, lack of complete inventory, and lack of uniformity undermine the program objectives. The good news is that the Administration’s prior knowledge of and analysis on ways to fix these shortcomings position it, in collaboration with the City Council, to standardize,  consolidate, and streamline the program  in a way that will quickly yield significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.”

The full report, and City’s response to the findings, can be found online at the OIG website.

Follow OIG on Twitter @ChicagoOIG for the latest information on how OIG continues to fight waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficiency in Chicago government.