Confusion drives some motorists over Aspen’s summer pricing structure | AspenTimes.com

Confusion drives some motorists over Aspen’s summer pricing structure

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.

There have been strikes and gutters for the city of Aspen's Parking Department since it rolled out a new pricing structure, which has angered some and pleased others.

The biggest success since the changes took effect in June is the free 15 minutes that's now offered to motorists once a day. It's designed to allow people to do quick errands and not worry about feeding the meter.

"It's working fantastic," said Mitch Osur, the city's director of parking. "More than I ever envisioned."

The first day it was in effect, 116 people took advantage. Last week, more than 300 people used the perk each day.

"I would have thought that 150 was a lot," Osur said.

He added that the feedback from people has been extremely positive but of course, they say "we love the 15. Can we have 30?"

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Osur said he doesn't plan on introducing a longer free zone; Aspen City Council originally only wanted 10 free minutes.

A failure that has emerged in the new pricing structure — which involves more expensive rates during peak times — is that people who use the pay-by-phone app have to use multiple codes for different parking options.

And not everyone is aware of that.

A resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was confused when she was trying to park in the downtown core last month.

She tried to pay via the phone app but wasn't able to make a transaction. She asked a parking officer why she couldn't park for more than an hour and she was handed a sheet showing five codes.

"I also asked why the Parking Department was not circulating this information so we could all use it," the resident wrote via email. "She wasn't quite sure how to answer that question."

Osur said parking officers put the information sheet on people's cars for two weeks when the new pricing structure was introduced, and the information is on the city's website.

But apparently not everyone got the memo.

Osur explained that the technology used by the pay-by-phone company can't handle the city's multiple pricing options. Specifically, it can't manage the free 15 minutes and the subsequent 50 cents for the next 15 and $1 for 30 minutes.

That's because the entire downtown core is under one code, so new ones had to be created.

Osur said he hopes the company's technology will have a fix by the end of the year.

He also noted that only 25 percent of all motorists who park downtown use the pay-by-phone app. But that's still between 400 and 500 people.

"We are having a hard time communicating with people (about the change)," Osur said.

One of the reasons for the change was that more than 100 people, believed to be employees of businesses in the commercial core, were gaming the system by paying for just an hour at a time, saving as much as $8 a day.

That's because the city had progressive hourly pricing, where each hour is more expensive than the previous one.

This past spring, council approved a new system in which parking fees are $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 told council at the time that 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 told council in April.

The goal was to have a 7 percent to 10 percent drop in occupancy at the 682 parking spaces in the downtown core, Osur said this week.

In that regard, the new pricing structure has worked, he noted.

Last week, occupancy was down between 9 percent and 18 percent, with one day being even with the same day last year.

Osur reported that transactions are down, as well.

"That tells me we don't have people feeding the meters as much," he said. "So for the first six weeks, the plan is working exactly as we thought."

csackariason@aspentimes.com