CHICAGO (CBS) -- Thousands of Chicago drivers wiped out $11.5 million in debt over the past month, by taking advantage of an amnesty program for vehicle sticker scofflaws.
The mayor's office said approximately 11,400 people applied for the sticker forgiveness program, which was open to motorists from Nov. 15 through Dec. 16.
Before the amnesty program started last month, the city offered drivers who didn't have a required vehicle sticker to buy one without any late fees or penalties in October.
Once scofflaws came into compliance, they were given the opportunity to have up to three unpaid vehicle sticker tickets forgiven. Drivers who no longer were required to have a sticker – either because they no longer own a car, or no longer live in the city – also were given the chance to have three tickets wiped out.
On Tuesday, the mayor's office said approximately 11,400 people applied for the amnesty program, totaling $11.5 million in unpaid tickets.
During the sticker forgiveness program, nearly 9,000 scofflaws purchased vehicle stickers, a 910% increase from 2018, according to the mayor's office.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Finance said as many as 500,000 drivers in Chicago might have outstanding tickets for city sticker violations, some dating back to the 1990s.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Clerk Anna Valencia launched the sticker forgiveness program at the end of September, saying too many drivers in Chicago end up in debt form parking tickets.
The mayor has said far too often low-income and minority drivers have their cars impounded, and sold for scrap, because they can't afford to pay their tickets and get their car out of the pound. She said many people who end up with their cars impounded then can't get to work to be able to pay off their debt.
In addition to the sticker amnesty program, the city also made several other changes to its fines and fees system earlier this year, including:
- Ending the practice of automatically suspending driver's licenses for non-moving violations.
- Reinstating the 15-day grace period to renew a city vehicle sticker before issuing a ticket, and the 30-day grace period to purchase a sticker before facing a penalty.
- No longer doubling the $200 fine for not renewing a city vehicle sticker; the city currently doubles fines after 83 days.
- Halting the practice of issuing multiple tickets on the same day or consecutive days for vehicle sticker violations.
- Creating a six-month ticket payment plan open to every driver with unpaid fines, and granting more time to motorists facing financial hardship.
- Allowing drivers whose cars have been booted for unpaid fines a 24-hour extension to either pay their fines in full or enter into a payment plan before their car is towed to the pound.
Although the city will be giving up millions of dollars in revenue from the penalties being eliminated or reduced, the mayor's office has said it expects the changes to be revenue neutral, by encouraging more drivers to pay tickets and fines if the penalties aren't as severe and it's easier to get on a payment plan.
For more information on the city's various debt forgiveness programs, click here.
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