Bus needs fuel paid parking plan
ASPEN Expanding paid parking into residential neighborhoods likely won’t bring increased bus services into town because the city transit program is already in the red.So the plan is to make motorists pay to park in about 1,500 spaces outside of the commercial core that are currently free. In addition, officials want to increase all parking rates by 30 percent, and ask voters this fall to apply a 2.1 percent tax on construction and building materials, as well as institute a 0.15 percent sales tax.Those measures combined would bring in more than $3 million annually that would be dedicated to operating and maintaining city transit services. But there’s no guarantee that it would increase services to the city’s eight free bus routes, which would come in the form of more frequent pickups and dropoffs.”The imminent problem is that we can’t afford to keep the current level we have,” said Assistant City Manager Randy Ready, adding it would be up to the City Council to determine how to spend any surplus – if there is any. “Theoretically, there should be a surplus and any excess would go to transit.”Officials estimate there will be shortfall of as much as $2.2 million every year in the transportation fund through 2014. City Hall this year will pay the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority $4.1 million to provide free bus service in town. But costs are rising at least 6 percent a year and revenue is expected to increase by only 3.5 percent, Ready said. And it’s going to take another $2 million to fix the Rio Grande Parking Garage roof.If no new funds are generated, transit service in Aspen will be cut even more starting this winter.”It’s a big pill to swallow at once,” said Tim Ware, director of the city’s transportation and parking department. “But we might as well swallow the pill right now.”The goal is to get the parking and bus service program to be self sustaining with no subsidy from city government. Right now, that’s not happening.”What council decided to do was be responsive to the voters who said no last November to a 0.45 percent sales tax to subsidize parking,” Ready said. “So we need to adjust the rates so paid parking pays for itself rather subsidize it.”Paid parking revenue currently brings in about $1.5 million, which covers operating the Rio Grande Parking Garage and the parking program. The city’s share of the 1 percent countywide transit tax and half of the 1 percent city lodging tax combined generates a little over $3.5 million for city bus service, Ready said.The 2.1 percent construction use tax is expected to generate between $1.6 million and $1.8 million every year and would go into effect Jan. 1, 2008. The new 0.15 percent sales tax would generate about $870,000 annually and would be effective September 2009, when the current .25 percent sales tax for parking expires. Increasing parking rates in the commercial core and at the Rio Grande parking garage is estimated to bring in an additional $536,000 annually. Revenue from up to 75 new pay stations in residential areas is projected to bring in about $350,000 a year.Ware pointed out that parking rates haven’t been increased since 2002. He added that the financial reality is that motorists who contribute to traffic congestion are the ones who are going to have to subsidize alternative transit programs.”People who elect to drive and pay to park are paying for those who elect to use alternative transportation,” Ware said. “A lot of people think we’re doing this to hose them but we’re not. I don’t enjoy doing this.”Officials surveyed residential neighborhoods this past winter to determine how many people were taking advantage of the free two-hour parking and then moving their cars to avoid getting a ticket. They found that 49.7 percent, or up to 600 cars, were doing the so-called “two-hour shuffle.”The City Council is expected to pass the paid parking expansion and fee increase proposal on Oct. 9 when it’s scheduled for a public hearing. While there appears to be broad support from the council, at least one elected official has grown skeptical. “I’m really sensitive to impacts on the people who can least afford them,” said City Councilman Steve Skadron. “We haven’t discussed the negative impacts yet and I look forward to that conversation.”It may lead us to a different conclusion.”While expanding paid parking and increasing the rates are designed to get people out of their cars, it could have negative results because the bus system may not be able to handle increased ridership. It could also further alienate workers who already battle long commute times. And high parking rates could send the wrong message to visitors. On a recent visit to Telluride, Skadron said he enjoyed the town’s free parking and said it sent the message “that we want you here.””I love free parking,” he said. “It’s an enormous benefit.”The current proposal to expand paid parking was brought forward by city staff last year but rejected by the previous City Council. The newly-elected council in July directed staff to bring it back.”We were scheduled to have a work session to talk about what we are going to do about traffic and what we are going to do about congestion,” Ware said. “I don’t enjoy knocking my head up against the wall … but we can’t keep up with [the transportation fund] with just paid parking.”When parking went from free to paid in the commercial core in 1995, the City Council first implemented it and then asked the voters four months later if they approved of it. The measure passed 1,094 in favor to 410 opposed.But it doesn’t appear the latest paid parking proposal will be presented to the voters. Ready said the 1995 proposal was more significant than expanding paid parking into residential neighborhoods.City Councilman Jack Johnson said he believes a directive form of government rather than a democratic one is more appropriate in the case of expanding paid parking. He added that he hadn’t considered taking the issue to voters before but said that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bad idea – he just doesn’t think it’s warranted in this case.”We are elected to make decisions,” he said. “Not everything has to go to the voters.”
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