Aspen chips away at free parking |

Aspen chips away at free parking

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” As soon as the end of this year, there will be no free ride when it comes to driving into Aspen.

The City Council on Monday agreed with transportation officials’ recommendations to eliminate motorists’ ability to park more than two hours a day on neighborhood streets in a three-block radius off the downtown area.

Instead, the estimated 1,000 motorists who engage in the “two-hour shuffle,” in which they move their cars every 120 minutes to avoid a ticket, as well as other drivers, including tourists, can buy a day pass for $7. Those passes can be purchased at new meters strategically placed in neighborhoods.

Parking officials also got the go ahead to buy a License Plate Recognition (LPR) system for $70,000 so they can better track motorists and issue citations with ease.

In addition, $20,000 will be spent on a pilot “congestion pricing” program for the downtown area, which will explore possibilities of charging motorists for driving in certain areas of Aspen at particular times. Officials are modeling the pricing program after ones created in London and Stockholm.

The system could be set up similarly to how a toll road works. Motorists could elect to have a transponder in their vehicles and the system would charge them according to their movements. A bill then would be sent to the owner of the vehicle. Another option would be to have a system that takes a photo of the vehicle and then the owner would be charged according to where he or she drove in the city.

Whatever method is adopted, the LPR system will be a crucial component in tracking vehicles not only for future congestion pricing but also for monitoring vehicles in residential zones because an established database can determine driver habits, said Tim Ware, the city’s director of parking, and Colin Laird, of Healthy Mountain Communities.

The two officials made the recommendations to the council, which gave them direction to draft an ordinance reflecting the parking policy changes, as well as create a separate fund that will collect the additional revenue and pay for future voter-approved mass transit services.

With the changes, staff conservatively estimates a 25 percent increase in day pass sales, which will generate $550,000 annually. Increased parking ticket revenue also is anticipated.

Mayor Mick Ireland said he’s concerned about the public’s civil liberties being violated and requested that any data collected by the LPR system is expunged after a short time period.

“Anytime you keep data about people, someone will find a way to abuse it,” he said. “There needs to be a way to not keep personal records.”

The majority of the council elected not to take Ware’s recommendation of limiting two-hour free parking in a 24-hour period in all permitted residential zones.

If it’s found that motorists go further into neighborhoods and move their cars every two hours to park for free, officials will expand the zone to do away with the opportunity.

The parking policy changes, which will cost up to $380,000 to implement, will go into effect after the bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout are completed. That is expected to happen in November.

In the meantime, the council wants to hear from Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship on how the changes will effect ridership and if the bus agency can handle an increase in riders.

The goal of the changes is to reduce congestion and traffic levels in Aspen, as well as create revenue to support mass transit alternatives.

Significant drops in traffic levels are attributed to congestion pricing programs in London and Stockholm. Laird said London was able to expand its transit system solely on revenue generated by its congestion pricing program.

City Councilman Steve Skadron asked at what point does a visit to Aspen become so onerous on visitors and businesses that they stop coming, suggesting that the parking changes might do that.

Assistant City Manager Randy Ready said there are plenty of options for people who choose to drive into town ” they just have to pay to do it.

“It’s not permit-only,” he said. “The options presented to you is the middle ground.”