Some things are free in Aspen, including expensive parking |

Some things are free in Aspen, including expensive parking

On any given day, there are roughly 65 vehicles in the downtown core whose owners park for free.

That’s about 10 percent of the overall inventory. The city’s parking czar, Mitch Osur, who is charged with managing the limited supply, said he would prefer to have all 682 spaces paid for.

“If I had my way no one would park for free,” he said. “We have a very limited commodity and we should have to pay for that commodity.”

On average, half of the vehicles that are parked for free have handicapped placards.

Firefighters and members of Mountain Rescue Aspen also get a pass from paying for parking. Combined, they take up to six spaces each day.

Retired firefighters and their spouses, along with current spouses of firefighters, park for free in residential zones.

Also exempt are government vehicles, including those from outside of Aspen. They take up an average of 13 or 14 spaces a day in the core, Osur said.

He added that he believes government cars should park in the Rio Grande parking garage.

Media outlets get a combined six free parking passes a year, so their staff can respond quickly to breaking news and emergencies.

And all vehicles get 15 minutes free. That was a new policy enacted this past June and is designed to let people do quick errands.

Neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) also get to park for free, and they take up an average of two or three spots a day.

Aspen City Council members are expected to discuss later this month whether drivers of NEVs, electric vehicles and hybrid cars should pay a fee to park downtown or in residential zones.

Last week, council members debated the vehicles’ environmental benefits against fairness issues, as well as managing the commodity to foster economic vitality.

“If our goal is to make spaces in the core available for paying shoppers and eaters the logic fails on free parking for NEVs,” said Councilman Ward Haunenstein via email. “I can live with free core parking for NEVs as a compromise and also an incentive. But I would rather all vehicles be treated the same for parking in the core. A parking space is a parking space, … a space requires a fee.”

Mayor Steve Skadron supports no fee for NEVs but that they honor the four-hour maximum that all vehicles in the core must abide by.

Osur, whose task is to keep spaces available for tourists and those who are eating and shopping, said the loose handicapped regulations present a challenge.

On a random day this past August, parking officers counted 36 non-designated handicapped spaces taken by handicapped vehicles.

That’s because the city allows disabled people to park wherever they’d like, which presumably is closest to their destination, Osur said.

“But then there are handicapped spaces open that no one can park in,” he said.

When asked if policy changes are afoot with handicapped parking, Osur said not at this time.

But parking policies do change over time. Osur noted that doctors used to park for free. Now they pay an annual permit fee of $100.

It’s unlikely that the downtown core will ever be 100 percent paid parking. But Osur asked how parking is different than rent: Commercial landlords don’t offer free rent in any instance, and parking shouldn’t be any different.

“We should be fair and consistent,” he said. “If I had my way, the only people who would park for free is handicapped.”