Fasten your seat belts — raised parking rates to continue in Aspen |

Fasten your seat belts — raised parking rates to continue in Aspen

A Mercedes SUV sits in front of an East Hopkins Avenue parking meter on Monday. City officials say this summer's increased parking fares have opened up more parking spots in downtown.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |

The city’s 50-percent increase in parking fares for downtown Aspen are likely to continue from December through March and again from July through August next year.

Members of Aspen City Council at a work session Monday signed off on a request by the city’s Parking Department to maintain the spiked fares during the peak tourism months. The decision won’t become official until October, when the city begins its budget talks for 2017.

The trial period, which began in June and runs through the end of August, saw parking rates inflate by 50 percent, which translated 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. The rates apply exclusively to the 650 paid-meter spaces in the downtown core.

According to Parking Director Mitch Osur, the experiment met its goals during June and July, which chiefly were to open up more downtown parking spots while using the extra revenue to help fund such city-sponsored mobility programs as WE-cycle and other offerings.

Critics of the trial period have argued that it was a money-grab ploy by the city and a financial blow to the working class.

Councilman Adam Frisch emphasized it is not.

“There’s a good amount of money, but then again, this has never been about filling the coffers,” he said.

June saw paid-meter revenue increase by 26.4 percent, or more than $60,000, over June 2015, Osur reported to the council. July saw a $71,500 boost in revenue, a near 25-percent increase, he said.

Meanwhile, the city-owned Rio Grande Parking Garage saw its June occupancy go up by 19 percent, or 1,504 cars, while July saw an increase of 15.7 percent, or more than 1,600 vehicles. Parking at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot jumped by 32.3 percent, or 2,581 cars, in June, and July saw counts rise by 25,7 percent, or 1,855 vehicles.

Not all of those increases can be attributed to the inflated fares, but Osur surmised they played a large role in the behavioral shifts.

“There’s no question we’ve moved a lot of people to the residential areas and parking garage,” Osur said.

Members of the City Council were on board with extending the raised fares.

“It’s stunning what was accomplished,” Councilman Bert Myrin said. “And we exceeded the goals on everything. I never would have guessed it.”

Mayor Steve Skadron declared the experiment has “been a welcome relief to the community in general” because it has helped eliminate “bumper-to-bumper” traffic in the core during the busy summer season.

“I cannot believe there are spots available,” he said.

The increase hasn’t been universally accepted — a Facebook page routinely derides the Parking Department, its officers and deplorable parking methods.

And at Monday’s work session, Belly Up nightclub owner Michael Goldberg asked Osur why the city doesn’t allow motorists to park longer than four hours.

Osur said that rule was on the city books well before he took the department’s reins last year.

“We never enforced it because we had no way to do it,” he said.

But the Parking Department now has a license-plate recognition system that enables its officers to enforce the four-hour limit, he said.

“Everybody gets two written warnings before they get ticketed,” Osur said.

Council discusses Downtowner extension

One service the increased parking fares helps fund is the Downtowner, a three-month pilot program that ends Sept. 15. Since it began June 15, the on-demand, electric-car taxi service has accounted for thousands of free rides in its territory, including 2,546 drop-offs in the West End and 6,845 in downtown. Rides are free, but drivers accept tips as their sole income.

As of Monday, 1,713 people had downloaded the Downtowner app, which allows users to seek the rides. The average wait time has been just under 5 minutes, Osur said.

The council agreed to continue the service during the offseason period starting Sept. 16 and for the following eight weeks as well as during the ski season. The open-air vehicles would be equipped with heaters, ski holders and snow tires for the wintry weather.

The operators of the Florida-based Downtowner service had sought a two-year agreement, but council members weren’t ready to make a commitment for that long of a term, instead wishing to see how it goes through the end of ski season.

“I don’t know if we’re ready to get into a two-year contract,” Skadron said.

Frisch said he’d also like to see what other transportation programs are available before agreeing to a longer term deal.

Assistant City Manager Randy Ready and Osur said they have talked to High Mountain Taxi about the service, which is offered from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. They said they have no plans to disrupt High Mountain Taxi’s business by expanding Downtowner’s territory, which goes to the Castle Creek bridge and the Cooper Avenue bridge to the east, the Roaring Fork River to the north and Aspen Mountain to the south. It also stops two blocks outside of the Aspen Meadows campus.

The city’s funding of this summer’s pilot program came through $50,000 from the transportation fund and another $39,250 from the Parking Department.

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