City of Aspen changes prices for downtown parking, wants fewer employees using core spots

Lorenzo Gonzalez, of El Jebel, feeds a meter near City Hall on Tuesday, hours before the Aspen City Council decided it will not increase downtown parking rates in 2015.
Aubree Dallas/The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen is offering free parking downtown to all motorists. The catch is that it’s for a maximum of 15 minutes.

The move is designed to allow people to do quick errands without having to pay the 50-cent charge.

It is one of a handful of parking policy changes Aspen City Council agreed to Monday night. Some will be part of a 120-day trial; others are changes to the city code and permanent. The policies will take effect June 1.

People will be able to go to a meter and get a receipt to display in their car for 15 minutes of free parking. Each vehicle gets the “Free 15” once a day. If motorists need more than that, they have to pay. Mitch Osur, the city’s parking director, emphasized that there’s no grace period with the free parking.

Council also agreed to switch to a fixed pricing structure based on time of the day and season. Currently, the city has progressive hourly pricing, where each hour is more expensive than the previous one. During peak season, it is $3 for the first hour, $4.50 for the second, $6 for the third and $7.50 for the fourth hour. The city’s four-hour limit for parking downtown costs $21.

Osur said the current price structure incentivizes people to feed the meter.

“Tourists are confused on how it works and they don’t have any idea how much they are paying,” he said.

Based on council’s direction, peak season pricing will now be $4 from 10 a.m. to 10:59 a.m., when it’s less busy. Then from 11 a.m. to 2:59 p.m., the price goes up to $6 per hour. It then drops back to $4 an hour from 3 to 5:59 p.m.

Osur said there are more than 100 people who game the system by paying for just an hour at a time, saving as much as $8 a day. The new pricing structure will eliminate that, he said.

Osur added that there are between 100 and 120 employees who are parking in the core and taking spaces that could be used for paying customers. Thirty percent of the congestion downtown is people driving around trying to find a place to park.

Council agreed to allow all employees to park in the Rio Grande Parking Garage for free after 3 p.m. to help alleviate the parking pressure in the core.

Osur said hourly performance pricing is an important next step to cut down on congestion and motivate local residents to drive into town during the slowest times for parking. Town is most busy from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — times when there should be parking spaces available for tourists and locals to shop and eat, Osur said.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she supports the change because it will force people to think differently about how they are coming into town.

“This supports using alternative forms of transportation,” she said.

Councilman Bert Myrin pointed out that for someone to have a 90-minute lunch during the peak time of the day, the cost to park goes from $5.25 to $9. That is a 71 percent increase.

“That’s a big change,” he said, adding that he supports the goals of the policy change. “I realize it shifts the demand from peak period to non-peak period.”

Osur said there are varying price increases based on when people decide to park. He reminded Myrin that the goal is to reduce parking 5 percent to 7 percent to free up spaces.

Parking prices will be reduced in the offseason, which council agreed to shortening to four months instead of five. Osur asserted that September has grown into a busy month and is no longer part of the shoulder season.