Aspen eyes parking rate hikes for summer
Parking in downtown Aspen is about to get more expensive.
Aspen City Council, at a work session that came after its regular meeting Monday, tentatively blessed Parking Director Mitch Osur’s proposal to raise rates in June, July and August to see if the experiment reduces traffic during the peak summer season.
“Our goal is to get less people parking and driving into town,” Osur told the council. “We think if we raise rates, more people will take the bus or park at the intercept lot (at Brush Creek and Highway 82).” Osur also said the city’s parking garage, at $5 a day, could be an option.
The Parking Department’s research has shown that 60 to 70 percent of the vehicles parked in Aspen’s 16-block downtown core are being used by employees, “and that’s very frustrating to us,” Osur said.
“Real estate agents, lawyers, even retailers are willing to pay money to park in the core every single day,” he said.
Under Osur’s proposal, the rate hikes would be as follows:
• The first 15 minutes to park would cost 75 cents, up from 50 cents.
• The first hour would cost $3, up from $2.
• Two hours would be $7.50, as opposed to the current rate of $5.
• Three hours would be $13.50, up from $9.
• The maximum four-hour parking time would increase from $14 to $21. That’s an increase of 50 percent.
Osur said the rates would remain the same as they are now for the offseason months of April, May, October and November.
Members of City Council were receptive to the idea, so long as traffic and parking statistics accompany this summer’s experiment to see if it meets its desired outcome.
Osur’s parking-rate hike was one of three options he presented. Another one was to have three parking zones established in the downtown core. The premium zones would cost as much as $21 for four hours; the cheapest zone would fetch $10 for the same amount of time.
The third option would combine the zoned-parking fees with the seasons.
All of the zones would be in the downtown core; the two-hour free parking in the residential zones wouldn’t change under any of the three scenarios.
“The economist in me tells me we do as much dynamic pricing as possible,” Councilman Adam Frisch said. “We don’t need to change rates like the airlines. Doing pricing … by zones will produce much bigger results than by month.”
Even so, Frisch said he was on board with the three-month experiment this summer.
Councilman Bert Myrin suggested offering bus vouchers to motorists to help offset the sting of the increased parking fees. Osur said he would research the possibility.
The council also asked Osur to drill down more details about his proposal, which he’ll bring back next month at another work session.
Monday’s discussion was the council’s latest effort to help alleviate the traffic aches that motorists endure during the high seasons, chiefly during the commute hours. Gridlock is common from the Airport Business Center to the S-curves in the morning, and on East Main Street getting out of town during the afternoon and early evening.
One of the council’s top 10 goals for 2015-17 is to devise some concrete plans to ease the traffic and also make it easier to find parking spots downtown.
Mayor Steve Skadron mentioned outlawing vehicles on Galena Street and the block of East Cooper Avenue that ends in front of the Boogie’s Building. He suggested trying it one day a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to see how it plays out.
“I’d like it considered as part of the discussion,” he said, adding that it would help promote a more pedestrian-friendly downtown.
The council also gave the green light to Assistant City Manager Randy Ready’s request to put out a request for proposals for a fleet of five to 10 electric carts — known as Downtowners — to ferry people through downtown, the West End and other areas in or close to the core.
Ready said five Downtowners is the more realistic figure. The vehicles, which would provide free transportation, could cost the city $3,000 each to operate and maintain, Ready said. He ruled out commercial advertising on the vehicles, which is done in some Florida tourist markets. Ready was, however, open to considering advertisements for nonprofit organizations or events in town.
Ready said the Downtowner service wouldn’t compete with taxi or limo companies because the routes would be short distances, which aren’t the primary money-makers for taxis and limos.
Skadron noted “aggressive measures to drive behavioral change” are needed if the city is serious about fixing Aspen’s traffic and parking woes.
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The Little Nell Hotel Group, a division of Aspen Skiing Co., announced Friday that it purchased seven acres of vacant land at the base of Mammoth Mountain. It plans to build a Limelight hotel and residences. The size hasn’t been disclosed yet.