City of Aspen poised to crack down on parking scofflaws | AspenTimes.com

City of Aspen poised to crack down on parking scofflaws

The growing number of people committing fraud so they do not have to pay for parking is prompting officials to crack down with increased fines and a possible tow.

Mitch Osur, the city's director of parking and downtown services, has proposed to Aspen City Council that the fine for altering a parking pass or other types of fraud be increased from $100 to $250.

He also asked council this week to consider letting his department impound cars whose owners have let a parking, standing or stopping violation lapse for more than 30 days. Currently it is 60 days.

Osur clarified this week that the parking department won't tow if a person has one or two tickets, but absolutely will if it's related to fraud.

"People who have a fraud ticket, I will tow them on the 31st day," he said, adding that it's gotten so systemic that officers are writing two or three fraud tickets a week — mostly in residential zones. "It's growing by leaps and bounds."

That's partly because increased parking rates went into effect earlier this month. Whenever the parking department changes a policy that affects drivers negatively, a certain percentage of them try to game the system in other ways, Osur said.

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"It's like the game, Whac-A-Mole," he said. "As we continue to raise prices, people find a way."

The impound time frame and increased fines for fraud tickets are being considered by council. If they are approved in the coming weeks, the new rules will go into effect this fall.

The parking department's top 10 offenders on the tow list for outstanding tickets total $7,440; they have collectively racked up 165 tickets.

The top offender owes $680 with 15 tickets; the second on the list owes $620 with 14 tickets; and third, $495 with 13 tickets. The tow list goes back as far as five years.

Osur said the parking department has towed two cars belonging to the offenders. They are impounded until the tickets are paid.

He said it's often difficult to locate the cars that have tickets attached to them, because the owners will refrain from driving into town, or they will sell their vehicles and the license plate is no longer valid.

Sometimes an officer will call the tow company but the driver will take off before the truck gets there.

"There have been drive-aways," Osur said. "My officers have almost been run over."

The city's approach is to not operate with a heavy hand when it comes to towing, particularly people who have overtime tickets.

"Nothing good happens when there's a tow," Osur said. "So we try not to tow because towing doesn't benefit anybody."

Offenders will be sent a letter after 30 days of the ticket being issued that informs them they owe the city money, according to Osur.

"Then that's as far as we go," he said.

Osur wouldn't get into specifics about how many tickets it takes to get on the tow list because he's afraid people would game the system if they knew that information.

When an officer writes a ticket, he or she will call the parking department to confirm how many violations the vehicle has. If it meets the department's threshold, a note will be placed on the vehicle's windshield that indicates it will be towed if the tickets aren't paid, Osur said.

Officers write between 150 and 200 tickets a day, but 50 percent of them are warnings, Osur said. First-time offenders, many of whom are tourists, may not be aware of the parking rules so they get a reprieve on their first infraction.

But when it comes to fraud, the first infraction will likely land the motorist a $250 fine and a potential tow. Osur said he will not tolerate people cheating the system.

"I gotta stop it," he said. "I have to stop it."

csackariason@aspentimes.com