CHICAGO - With its affection for privatizing existing assets showing no signs of abating, the city of Chicago on Friday opened a search for firms interested in bidding on the right to take over the long-term operations of its lucrative parking meter system for an upfront cash payment.

The deadline for firms interested in submitting their qualifications to later participate in a bidding process is Friday, March 14 at 4 p.m. Central Time, according to the 20-page request for qualification document. The city and Chicago Park District's parking system generated total operating revenue of $21.9 million in 2006 and $22.9 million last year. After paying operating expenses, the system generated $16.6 million in income in 2006 and $18.9 million last year.

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