Aspen phasing out free parking for hybrid vehicles | AspenTimes.com

Aspen phasing out free parking for hybrid vehicles

The days of free parking in Aspen's residential area for owners of hybrid vehicles will draw to a close at the end of 2018.

"The philosophy is, it's just not current technology any more," said Mitch Osur, the city's director of parking services and its liaison to downtown businesses, on Thursday.

The City Council agreed to the phase-out in August 2016, though it received little if any media attention at the time. Osur, however, said he's been hearing from some hybrid-vehicle owners who are confused about the phase-out and when it actually ends. That's in part because the idea of eliminating free parking at the end of this year was entertained until the city decided to extend it until the end of 2018, Osur said.

The city rolled out the free-parking perks for hybrid owners in September 2003. Called the Hybrid Parking Policy, it allowed hybrid owners to obtain a free pass from the city to park in the residential-permit zones and carpool parking spaces. The concept dovetailed with the city's Canary Initiative, run by its climate action department, that is intended to reduce the city's greenhouse emissions by 30 percent in 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

The city now, however, has changed its tune about free parking because of changing technology.

"Over the last 13 years, vehicle technology has come a long way," read a memo from Osur and Ashley Perl, the city's climate action manager, to City Council in advance of an Aug. 1 work session on the matter. "Hybrid vehicles, in general, still present an opportunity for fuel savings and increased efficiency for the vehicle owner. However, national standards for new cars, enforced by the EPA, continue to improve overall fuel economy requirements for all vehicles such that passenger cars will be required to get 49 miles per gallon by 2020."

Aspen resident Bryan May, the owner of Toyota Highlander hybrid SUV, said it gets 25 to 30 miles per gallon. He said he understands the city's decision to wind down the program, "but it's also discouraging to see a program like this falling by the wayside," he said, noting that he uses the free parking pass a few times a week.

The program grew to 232 hybrid parking passes in 2014, according to city records. That figure now stands at 136 hybrid passes, Osur said.

Osur said the intention isn't too generate more money for the city's parking coffers. While residential parking is free for two hours, motorists must pay a daily rate for eight hours, while hybrid owners get the spaces for free.

The city, which installed its third electrical-vehicle charging station at the corner of Dean and Galena streets earlier this month, also has tentative plans to eliminate free residential parking for electric vehicles, Osur said.

The standing date for that is Dec. 31, 2020, but the city could end up extending that benefit, he said.

The city's decision to end the free parking is noted on page 12 of the Aspen Community Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan, which states: "Hybrid drivers are eligible for a permit to park for free in residential zones around Aspen through 2018."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com