Aspen officials: Don’t leave your car downtown if it snows |

Aspen officials: Don’t leave your car downtown if it snows

One of more than 100 signs in the downtown core warning drivers not to park in the area between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. or risk being towed. Parking officials towed 22 cars from the downtown area last week so streets department personnel could remove snow.

While city parking officials didn’t tow even one car from the downtown core last year for snow removal, the big dumps so far this year are a different story.

Officials towed 22 vehicles Jan. 4 that were parked overnight downtown after a particularly large storm, which prompted a bit of hearty complaining, according to front desk personnel at the Aspen Police Department and Mitch Osur, city of Aspen parking director.

“Oh, yeah,” Osur said when asked if he heard about the “snow tows.” “Eighty percent of people are fine with it. Twenty percent come in and are frustrated and say, ‘Why did you tow my car?’”

Technically, it is illegal to leave a car parked in the 16-block area defined as the downtown core every morning between 3 and 7. More than a 100 signs warning of that law are posted in the area, Osur said.

However, on any given night, Osur estimated that between 25 and 30 cars remain parked downtown during those hours. Usually it’s not a big deal, he said. Except when it snows a lot.

“We try not to do it,” he said. “But the Streets Department has to clean the streets.”

Jan. 4 was the first and only time so far this year the department has initiated snow tows, he said. Last year, because the snow came in smaller amounts, the tows were not necessary. But with more than 40 inches in the past week — and more predicted in the coming days — this year has been a different story, Osur said.

Still, parking officials don’t take the practice lightly, he said.

“We have cut down on towing by about 50 percent since I got here a year and a half ago,” Osur said. “We used to just tow. Today, we work very hard to contact customers before we tow.”

Those efforts include calling people if their phone numbers are on file or attempting to track them down via their license plates, he said. If the car is towed, it costs $160 to retrieve it, Osur said.

“We make $10 per tow,” he said. “That’s not even enough to cover our administrative costs. The tow companies get $150. We don’t make money (on tows).”

Aspen police also hear complaints revolving around the misconception that the city profits on the tows, said Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn.

“It’s not the money at all,” he said. “Really, the main issue is snow and removing it.”

Police can write parking tickets for cars left downtown and used to do so frequently, Linn said, but it didn’t change any behavior. And it’s really only a big deal after a big snowstorm or during the spring and summer when street cleaners are operating, Linn said.

A driver who has been drinking and must leave a car in the downtown area during a snowstorm can call police and they will try to help if they are not busy, Linn said. If police are busy, well, “a tow is still way cheaper than a DUI,” he said.

Osur also said he does not want any intoxicated drivers behind the wheel. But it’s not a complaint he’s heard a lot, he said.

“No one who’s come in and complained (this year) has said, ‘I was drunk last night,’” Osur said.

The bottom line this time of year, Osur said, is that if it’s predicted to snow, don’t leave your vehicle downtown. One alternative is parking in the parking garage, which is free between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m., and costs $1.50 an hour after that, he said.