City leaders: inflated Aspen parking fees not a money grab
City Council members are well aware they will be getting backlash over this summer’s parking-fee hike, but they are holding firm on the experiment to see if it reduces traffic into Aspen and opens up more parking in the downtown core.
At a work session Tuesday, the council instructed city staff to create a form letter to send to those who complain to elected officials and bureaucrats about the raised fares, which take effect in June, July and August. The inflated fees will only apply to the downtown core and won’t affect rates in the residential areas or the Rio Grande Parking Garage, Parking Director Mitch Osur said. Osur noted the anticipated $150,000 in additional revenue will go toward trip-reduction programs that would include promoting driving less, and giving people who pledge to drive less such perks as WE-Cycle season passes, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority value cards, bike-tune coupons and other benefits.
Osur said he also plans to launch a public relations campaign of sorts by having his parking officers visit downtown merchants to explain to them why prices are going up. Newspaper advertisements also will be taken out to offer the rationale behind the pilot program.
“We need people to know this is not a money grab,” said Councilman Adam Frisch, adding that the increased rates will “cause some angst, we know. I just think we need to be prepared.”
The across the board, 50 percent rate hike means motorists will see increases from $2 to $3 for the first hour of parking; $5 for two hours to $7.50; $9 for three hours to $13.50; and $14 for four hours to $21.
Osur has said that 70 percent of motorists who park downtown are locals and workers. He hopes the rate hikes will force a bulk of them to park in residential areas and the parking garage, use the Brush Creek Intercept Lot or take the bus to town.
The idea has taken hold among those hankering for anything to reduce the downtown congestion.
“I’ve heard very little support for the idea of raising the prices,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said. “In fact, all of the people who I’ve talked to are critical of the idea.”
But others have likened it to a regressive tax that’s a blow to working locals’ wallets.
Mayor Steve Skadron called the increased rates a “bold experiment.”
“I think everybody who complains about the parking problems has a chance to address it,” he said, adding the experiment’s goal is to “get people to take responsibility for their actions and park outside the core.”
“This is a pilot program. It’s an experiment. It’s a test,” Skadron said. “If it works, we win. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But we’re trying.”
Mullins said, “If in the end it shows less traffic in town, that’s great, we can talk to all of these critics and say it worked though.”
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Indie folk band Birdtalker is making three Colorado tour stops this weekend starting with Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House on Friday.