Aspen parking department takes $1M revenue hit due to pandemic
Neighborhood parking to remain free until February as officials look at new payment options
The city of Aspen’s parking department suffered a $1 million revenue loss in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as it did not charge fees for the first two-and-a-half months of the pandemic, kept pricing low in June and is continuing free parking in residential areas through January.
And when paid parking does go into effect Feb. 1 in neighborhoods, it will be $2 cheaper a day than usual. So instead of $8 a day, it will be $6, which matches what the parking garage charges with a monthly punch pass, according to Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking.
The decline in revenue also is due to fewer people parking in the downtown core, and Osur expects the next two weeks to follow that trend.
Outside of free parking in the second half of March, and all of April and May, revenue was down anywhere between 20% and 50% in specific months, while September and October were up.
Osur said the trend is that town is busier Thursday through the weekend and then tapers off at the beginning of the week.
When city departments were asked to readjust their budgets in April due to COVID, Osur predicted massive losses. But by the end of December, he expects the department to be between $100,000 and $150,000 above the readjustment.
“We were in better shape than what I had projected,” he said.
Parking revenue, which comes mainly from metered spots downtown, amounted to $2.8 million and had been forecasted at the beginning of the year to be nearly $3.4 million.
City officials originally planned to reinstate paid parking in residential areas Jan. 18 but is delaying that by a couple of weeks because the parking department is looking at investments in contactless payment options.
The loss in residential parking revenue amounts to $177,000 through October, according to Osur.
One of the major consequences of keeping the residential zones free is that the parking garage occupancy was down over 20% as customers decided to park in neighborhoods versus paying to park in the garage.
Much of the parking department’s revenue goes toward paying for in-town bus service, of which the annual $1.7 million was transferred to the city’s transportation department this year.
Osur significantly cut departmental expenses to shore up the budget shortfall, whether it was reductions in training, trade shows, overtime pay or capital expense deferrals.
The remaining losses are a hit to the city’s general fund.
Aspen is unique to other cities in the country in that its parking department is not revenue driven, but rather its goal is to reduce traffic congestion and ensure there are spaces available to foster commercial activity.
“We make decisions on parking based on data, instead of the need for revenue,” Osur said. “It’s about managing a scarce resource, it’s not about the money and we are trying to reduce the amount of cars over the Castle Creek Bridge.”
Parking ticket revenue is not driven to make money either, he noted. Revenue for tickets is less than 15% of the overall budget, and is far lower this year than previous ones.
“We were very lenient in June, July and August because of COVID world and we were trying to be team players,” Osur said.
Enforcement is focused on following the rules and ensuring the turnover of spaces in the downtown core.
“There is no pressure on our staff to write tickets to make money,” Osur said.
City financiers, in developing the 2021 budget, expect parking revenue will continue to perform below normal expectations due to COVID public health orders.
Of the $4 million in revenue budgeted in 2021, an estimated 87.9% will be generated from on‐street revenue, 10.7% from garage fees and the remainder from other miscellaneous items. Overall, the revenue expectation is budgeted at 40.2% over 2020’s forecast as a result of expected increases in tourism traffic as the economy rebounds from COVID public health restrictions.
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The steep Jail Trail that leads into downtown Aspen is getting a better grade to address safety concerns and make it easier for people to use.