While Aspen’s parking problem continues to grow, the Rio Grande parking garage sits largely unused. Aspen City Council members on Tuesday agreed it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
One idea floated to the council is free transportation between the garage and downtown destinations. City Manager Steve Barwick, who will submit a proposal sometime this spring, said there are two options: pedicabs or electrical-powered vehicles similar to golf carts. Barwick said it could help draw traffic to a facility that’s losing money every year while alleviating congestion downtown.
In 2014, the parking garage is projected to provide $383,460 in revenue while requiring $547,590 in expenses, according to numbers provided in this year’s budget review.
“The word is we have a parking problem in town, and we have a vacant garage,” Mayor Steve Skadron said. “Let’s see if we can address this problem.”
While council member Adam Frisch pointed out that the garage is only a three-block walk to Restaurant Row, Barwick said many people, particularly the older population, are not keen on making the uphill climb. The vehicles, Barwick said, likely would be tested out in the summer.
Frisch said the bigger problem is that Galena Plaza needs to be revitalized so people have a greater interest in that part of town. A connection to the center of town as proposed, he said, also could help.
According to Parking Director Tim Ware, the garage is used mostly by local commuters. There are about 70 monthly pass holders who pay $200 a month or $10 a day based on a five-day workweek. Skadron pointed out that the city offers a daily fee of $5, which allows patrons to enter and exit only once. The monthly pass is unlimited. Skadron suggested adjusting those fees to make the garage more attractive to workers.
“I think you’re on to something, Steve,” said Don Taylor, city finance director.
Ware also suggested better signage around town because many visitors aren’t even aware that the garage exists.
“The real goal is customer service,” Ware said, adding that many people feel unsafe inside parking garages.
During the discussion, Skadron also brought up the issue of waiving parking fees during special events like the USA Pro Challenge. He said it might be a “feel-good decision” at the time, but he asked if these exceptions affect the Parking Department’s bottom line.
Ware said minor exceptions can be absorbed easily, but he said the question deserves more discussion and analysis in the future.