City hybrid perks running out of gas? | AspenTimes.com

City hybrid perks running out of gas?

Janet Urquhart

Aspen could slam the brakes on its perks for hybrid vehicles, instituted a couple of years ago to encourage use of the environmentally friendlier autos.Now, with an increasing number of them on the street and more consumers turning to hybrids as the price of gasoline skyrockets, at least one Aspen City Council member has suggested it’s time to do away with the perks.”I’m not sure that incentive is necessary any more,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said.The City Council is grappling with long-term shortfalls in its parking/transportation budget, yet it offers $100 annually to Aspen residents who own hybrid gas-electric vehicles that meet the Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle standard.In addition, any qualifying hybrid vehicle is allowed to park with impunity in the city’s residential and carpool zones. First, though, owners must register the vehicle with the Parking Department.The arrangement doesn’t cost the city any parking revenue, other than what owners of the autos might otherwise have to pay in parking fines – other drivers risk a parking ticket after a vehicle is left for more than two hours in a residential zone, for example. And only about one-quarter of the 60 or so hybrid vehicles that have been registered belong to city residents who can collect the $100 each year, estimated Tim Ware, parking supervisor.But as more hybrid vehicles hit the market – Lexus, Ford and Toyota have all introduced hybrid SUVs – Ware’s department is continually signing up more vehicles for the parking deal.”We’re starting to see a ton of them,” Ware said.When the council narrowly approved the hybrid incentives in 2003, members indicated a willingness to end the program if it threatened to “get out of control,” Ware recalled.It’s about to hit that point, he contends.Already, Ware’s department receives complaints from car-poolers when the blocks reserved for them are taken up with hybrids, whose drivers don’t have to carpool to be eligible to park in the spots. Commuters who have two or three occupants in a vehicle, depending on the time of year, can pick up a carpool pass and leave a vehicle in the zone all day without worrying about a parking ticket.The south side of Main Street, across from the county courthouse, is one of those carpool zones.”It was the prime carpool parking. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Ware said. “Some days, it’s all full of hybrids. I’m not saying they [the hybrids] are all single-occupant vehicles, but I bet a lot of them are.”Klanderud opposed the breaks for hybrids when they were instituted, reasoning that they run counter to the city’s goal of encouraging people to use mass transit. She also questions the fairness of treating hybrid owners differently than the owners of other vehicles that also meet the Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle standard.”If you’re only concern is emissions, then I think you have to consider them all,” she said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com