No break for hybrid vehicles |

No break for hybrid vehicles

Janet Urquhart

Local owners of hybrid gas-electric vehicles won’t enjoy free parking downtown, but they will qualify for a $100 rebate on their license registration, the Aspen City Council agreed Tuesday.

Council members again balked at the free parking perk over the objections of Councilman Terry Paulson, who argued the ability to park downtown without plugging the meters is the better incentive to buy a hybrid vehicle.

“A hundred dollars is nothing,” he said.

It would buy a lot of parking, countered Councilman Tony Hershey.

“Why does it have to be a baby step? Why can’t we take a giant step?” said Paulson, who encouraged council members to reconsider the parking break for drivers of low-emission hybrids after they rejected the idea in January.

“I think government has an opportunity to create a market here,” Paulson said. “I think it’s up to us to create a market for these hybrid vehicles.

“The bottom line here, guys, is trying to improve our air quality.”

Hybrid vehicles grind as much road dirt into the air as a standard vehicle, pointed out Councilman Tom McCabe, noting that particulate pollution is Aspen’s more pressing air-quality problem.

Other council members voiced worries that offering free parking would run counter to the goals of the city’s paid parking program – reducing particulate pollution and encouraging use of mass transit among them.

Free parking encourages people to drive, said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“Our ultimate goal here is to get people out of their automobiles,” she said.

Tim Ware, head of the city’s parking department, estimated there are currently only a handful of local owners of hybrid vehicles. Automakers, however, will soon introduce additional hybrid models, including the first hybrid SUVs, and the number of hybrids on the road is expected to jump dramatically over the next few years, he said.

Free parking for a growing number of vehicles would cut into the parking revenues the city needs to fund its bus system, Ware noted.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association, however, has urged the city to try a pilot program offering free downtown parking to hybrid vehicles, just as the Aspen Skiing Co. offered free parking in its lots to the vehicles this winter.

“I think you would be on the cutting edge,” said ACRA board member Don Sheeley. “Give it a try, see what will happen.”

Sheeley said he’d like to see the city offer both the $100 rebate and free parking to hybrid vehicle owners.

But most of the council, with Councilman Tim Semrau absent, agreed to start with the rebate, which will come from the parking department for vehicle owners who present their license registration.

Heeding McCabe’s desires, council members agreed to limit the rebate to drivers of smaller hybrid vehicles – not the SUVs that will be coming on the market shortly.

“I don’t want to get behind SUV hybrids,” McCabe said.

To qualify for the rebate, vehicle owners must own a hybrid that has earned the “ultra super low emissions vehicle” rating.

All-electric vehicles – those little, doorless, battery-powered cars that are seen around town – already enjoy free parking in the core.

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