How’s Aspen’s summer going? Check the meter |

How’s Aspen’s summer going? Check the meter

With the help of son Eric, 8, Dennis Christopher of Colorado Springs purchases a parking permit at the kiosk on Galena Street and Hyman Avenue Tuesday. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Forget sales tax revenues and lodging occupancies. Aspen’s economic indicator during the summertime can be found in its downtown parking meters.”It’s a very good gauge, we’ve found, to tell how busy town was,” said Tim Ware, head of the city’s parking department.What was, by all reports, a packed July 4 weekend for example, was confirmed by the parking meter receipts for the first week of July – $30,224 this year compared to $26,073 in 2003.The city’s 350-space Rio Grande parking garage was maxed out on four occasions during the day on July 4 this year. The facility was never full for the holiday last year, but detouring traffic right past the turnoff to the garage to accommodate the parade this year probably helped, Ware noted.In June, revenue from the city’s 850 paid-parking spaces in the commercial core totaled $53,907. That’s down from $58,929 for the same month a year ago, but the decline may reflect the vagaries of the calendar, according to Ware.

Downtown parking on Saturdays, free during the offseasons, extended through the first two Saturdays in June this year. Paid parking and beefed-up enforcement began on the third weekend in June, with the Aspen Magazine Food & Wine Classic, which fell five days later than last year. And, construction crews were allowed to occupy downtown parking spots until June 11 this year; that practice ended on Memorial Day weekend last year.Ware expects the Parking Department to generate $2.5 million this year, including meter revenues, the sale of in-car meters and proceeds from parking tickets. Net revenues fund the city’s free bus system.June, July and August are the big months for paid parking, when vacationers stream over Independence Pass, which is closed during the winter.”The winter crowd is a finite crowd because of our limited bed base,” Ware said. “We don’t get the day-trippers we see in the summer.”Next January, Aspen will mark a decade of paid parking in its downtown core. It began with a legendary protest – vehicles circling City Hall, horns blaring.

The meters were phased in, starting with 27; now there are 60. Aspen was the first city in North America to install the “pay and display” meters on city streets. The devices were popular in Europe long before they found their way into use across the Atlantic.Ware still gets calls from cities, large and small, contemplating use of the meters or converting from the old, single-space, coin-operated meters to the “pay and display” meters that can be placed every block or so. Motorists collect a ticket for display on their dashboard with the system. The ticket is good anywhere in the core, until the time on it expires.”The single-space meter is going away. It’s just flat going away,” Ware said.And Aspen is still a leader – seeing higher use of credit cards in the meters than other cities in North America, he said.The town’s machines were outfitted to accept credit cards two years ago, obviating the need for a pocketful of quarters or tokens. They were adjusted to accommodate parking for up to four hours instead of two, as well, with an escalating rate for longer stays.

Now, 60 percent of the revenues collected in the meters come via credit cards. “We are doing better than any other city with credit cards,” Ware said.Toronto, for example, sees about 35 percent of its payments through plastic. The city has about 3,500 of the meters, Ware said. Starting next week, Aspen’s meters will begin being outfitted with cellular technology that will link each individual meter to parking department headquarters at City Hall. It’s the last piece of the upgrade that converted the meters for credit card use and adjusted the parking rates in 2002.The linkup will allow Ware’s department to track use of each individual meter and adjust rates without adjusting the software in each meter.He’ll be able to identify the busiest meters, and the busiest hours, or the busiest day of the year for meter use. Ware will also be able to nail down the average amount of parking time people purchase at the meters, which he currently estimates at 2.5 hours. “This will be dead on,” he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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