Facebook page rages against Aspen Parking Department
More than two weeks have passed since the city raised its parking fares by 50 percent, which has inspired a Facebook page whose members have mocked the Parking Department and accused its officers of reaping commission payments for issuing tickets.
Parking Department Director Mitch Osur said the increased fares are having their desired effect. More metered parking spots are available, and he’s seen a boost in business at the city-owned Rio Grande Parking Garage.
“I think it’s totally on track,” Osur said. “As I walk around the town and talk to my officers, it feels like less people are parking in the core, so that was the goal. We’re not going for a 50 percent increase in revenue. This was not a money grab.”
But the higher parking prices, which are being implemented on a trial period through August, have drawn the chagrin of a Facebook group called Locals Against the City of Aspen Parking Department.
Formed June 2, the day after the spikes took effect, the page lists its founder as Jamal White, who in actuality is Bo Weinglass.
Weinglass said he used a pseudonym because he worried the Parking Department would retaliate against him.
“They just harass me everyday,” he said.
Weinglass lives downtown in the Boogie’s building, which his father, Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass, built and owned until last year. The younger Weinglass runs the clothing store in the building.
He said parking officers give him little wiggle room, slapping his vehicle with tickets right after 10 a.m., when paid parking is enforced, and minutes before 6 p.m., when it ends. Weinglass, using the White alias, also posted a video of him having a verbal dispute with a parking officer over a ticket.
“You don’t burn bridges in a small town like this,” he said.
Osur, however, said he and other city officials have known that Weinglass is behind the page. The page is rife with misinformation, with 80 percent to 90 percent of its content false, Osur alleged. He particularly took issue with the claims that parking officers collect commission or have quotas for tickets.
“I know for a fact our officers aren’t paid commission or bonuses,” he said. “There’s no bonus, there’s no quota.”
If people have a problem with the Parking Department, “come talk to me,” Osur said. “Trash me all day because we raised prices 50 percent. I can live with that. But have the guts to use your name.”
Weinglass said he’s convinced parking officers get bonuses and have quotas.
“No one is moving here to be the most hated person in the community,” he said. “They’re getting something under the table. Nobody is doing that job unless they’re getting something on the back end.”
The page had more than 2,600 members as of 1 p.m. Thursday. Among the members are business owners, Aspen media types, real estate brokers and even Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.
A bulk of the members were added by existing members or the page’s administrators. DiSalvo said he had seen the page but wasn’t aware he was a member.
“I’m not a big Facebook guy,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m on or not on. But if it comes with free parking, I’m in.”
The group’s mission is to lower the price to park.
“Once we get 1,000 members, then we can go to the City Council and make it right. Forty-two dollars a day is seriously insanely wrong,” the page’s description says.
City Attorney Jim True said the city is aware of the page and has no plans to do address it.
“It doesn’t mean anything one way or another,” he said.
Aspen City Council approved the parking-fare increases in April. The goal of the experiment is to reduce traffic into town and steer locals away from parking downtown and instead into residential areas or the city-owned parking garage.
The across-the-board, 50 percent rate hike translates to 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.
Whatever extra cash is generated would help fund such municipal transportation programs as the free, on-demand taxi service this summer, along with a shuttle service, bus passes, free bike tunes and other benefits for Aspen residents, according to city officials.
Data collected from the first two weeks show the trial period so far is achieving its objective, Osur said.
The first three days of June showed a 17.25 percent increase in revenue collected from metered spots over the same period last year, while the second week of the increased fares showed a 14.5 percent improvement, Osur said.
There also were more paid-parking spaces available during the first two weeks of June, with an 11.2 percent dip in occupancy from June 1 through 3 and a 14.7 percent drop from June 6 through 11, Osur said.
Osur said he hopes the increase in available parking, if the trend continues, will translate to more business for retailers, as well.
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