Aspen parking fee hikes meet push back from business leaders
The city of Aspen’s Parking Department hopes to deter locals from parking in the downtown core this summer by raising fares by 50 percent. The change only applies to the downtown core and won’t affect rates at the parking garage or in residential neighborhoods.
Parking time Current Summer*
15 minutes .50 .75
1 hour $2 $3
2 hours $5 $7.50
3 hours $9 $13.50
4 hours $14 $21
Source: City of Aspen Parking Department
* June, July and August
Commuters: Would you take a public bus to Aspen from Basalt, Glenwood Springs or other downvalley communities if the service were free? Or would you rather drive your vehicle upvalley and pay to park?
Members of the Aspen Commercial Core and Lodging Commission raised those questions to Mitch Osur, head of the Aspen Parking Department, at their monthly meeting last week.
The lively discussion came as the City Council is poised to approve parking-rate hikes during the months of June, July and August. The council tentatively approved Osur’s proposal last month, with more discussion set for Tuesday. The goal of the parking-fee hikes, which are being done on a temporary, experimental basis, is to deter working locals from parking in the downtown core during the busiest time of year for Aspen traffic. Osur said he has concluded that 70 percent of downtown’s parking spaces are occupied by local workers, based on anecdotal evidence.
Osur said this summer’s strategy, if promoted effectively, could result in commuters changing their habits by parking in Aspen’s two-hour free residential zones (which cost $8 for a full day of parking), in the city parking garage or at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot, from where they would take a bus to Aspen. The ultimate mission of the fare hikes is to have a 10 percent parking-vacancy rate in the downtown core, he said.
“We’re trying to save the core for the tourists so they can spend money in your places,” Osur told the commission. “If they can’t find a place to park, they might go to Snowmass or they might leave town and shop in Basalt or Glenwood.”
Osur emphasized that the parking hikes would only take effect in the core. The Rio Grande Parking Garage, located at 427 Rio Grande Place in Aspen, costs $1.50 an hour with a $15 maximum. Regular users are better off buying a 10-punch pass for $50; that’s $5 a day. The 24-hour garage, which will operate at its full, 365-space capacity come summer, is free from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“It’s one of the best-kept secrets in town,” Osur said. “A lot of people aren’t aware you can park in the garage for $5 a day.”
The more effective way to keep locals from parking downtown is to have the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority provide free bus rides to workers commuting to Aspen, said Terry Butler, who sits on the commission.
“This is about reward and punishment,” Butler told Osur. “If we reward the people to ride the bus, it will change their behavior.”
Butler argued that employers will pay the extra cost for their employees to park.
“It’s not going to solve the problem,” she said.
Another commission member, Kiki Raj, offered that a $1 fee at the parking garage for Aspen workers only also could steer locals away from the core.
“I would like for the three-month trial period to also lower the price in the parking garage on the daily rate for people who work in town,” she said.
Osur said the ideas made sense, but implementing them will be another matter. The free RFTA rides could cost the agency $10 million to $15 million if they were done year-round. That would entail a much broader conversation with RFTA, Osur said.
Butler said the city could help defray that cost.
“This is a tough problem because we have a City Council that doesn’t want any cars at all,” she said. “It’s a tough, tough problem, but somehow we’ve got to pierce into RFTA because people are paying $14, $16 to come up and down.”
More specifically, RFTA’s walk-up fare for a Basalt-to-Aspen trip is $4. It’s $6 from Carbondale, $7 from Glenwood Springs, $8 from New Castle, $9 from Silt and $10 from Rifle. Those making the round trip pay double those amounts, but they also can get significant price breaks with punch passes.
“We’re a very wealthy town,” Butler said. “We can bloody well pay for it. … If they want a car-free town, that’s what they have to do.”
Butler also contended that it’s not just the worker bees who will feel the effect.
“It’s just rich Aspen taxing them again,” she said.
Osur disagreed, saying visitors are prone to pay larger amounts to park just like they would in major cities.
No windfall for parking coffers
Osur said he expects the Parking Department to make an additional $150,000 to $200,000 with the increased summer fees. But he said the extra revenue won’t go into the Parking Department’s coffers.
“We’re not keeping the money,” he said. “Our goal is to give the money back to people who use alternative forms of transportation.”
One way would be to give bus vouchers to motorists, Osur said at last month’s meeting with the City Council. Another option is to put the extra funds in the city’s Transportation Options Program, which provides participating Aspen employers with free services and grants.
“We’re working on a plan to give this money back to the people who drive less,” he said.
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