Paid parking in the off-season is a ‘consistent’ reality | AspenTimes.com

Paid parking in the off-season is a ‘consistent’ reality

Brent Gardner-Smith

Many a driver in Aspen has experienced the frustration of an off-season parking ticket on a near-empty street.

Why, with so much empty pavement, does the city continue to write tickets?

“We try and remain as consistent as possible,” explained Tim Ware, city of Aspen parking director. “Re-educating people to get back to using meters is hard. If it is the same all the time, it helps.”

The off-season in Aspen does include a slight easing of the town’s paid parking system.

There are fewer parking officers on patrol, it’s now free to park downtown on both Saturdays and Sundays, it only takes two people per car instead of three to get a free HOV pass, and it’s only a $1.50 a day to park in the Rio Grande parking garage.

But other than that, it is pretty much paid parking as usual, with a $15 ticket for staying too long in a metered spot and $25 for overstaying the two-hour limit in residential areas.

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And for drivers standing outside their car, ticket in hand, scanning blocks of empty pavement, that can be frustrating.

“If we didn’t enforce, there wouldn’t be any open parking spaces,” Ware said. “It would not be empty downtown, trust me.”

Aspen’s paid parking program generates about $1.5 million a year. And $900,000 of that this year goes to run the city’s parking and transportation department, which includes nine parking officers, two administrative personnel, the director and two people planning and promoting mass-transit options.

Any money left over after the department’s expenses are met goes to fund mass transit in the city and valley.

“The revenues have always been dedicated to mass transit,” said Ware. “It’s all going back to transit alternatives.”

But Ware said his department does not set ticket quotas and is not revenue driven.

“We could write 10 times the tickets that we do,” Ware said. “I think we are very mellow compared to most parking departments.”

Paid parking was started in Aspen in 1995 to make it easier to park in the downtown commercial core, where there are 850 spaces, and to encourage people to take the bus or car pool.

The two-hour limit is enforced in Aspen’s residential areas so that they are not flooded with cars, Ware explained.

For the most part, he thinks that most people support paid parking in the downtown core, although no one relishes getting a parking ticket.

“There are some people out there who feel that paid parking is doing a good job and opens up spaces,” Ware said. “And there is a group of people who want to see it go away and us with it.”

And Ware understands that getting a ticket on a near-empty street, either downtown or in a residential area, can be a disheartening experience for a valley local.

“I know a ticket is salt in the wound,” he said. “There are already enough factors that make it hard enough to get by in the valley.”

And he points to several options to help make life easier. In addition to taking the bus or carpooling, Ware suggests using the Rio Grande parking garage, buying a $5-a-day pass to park in the residential zones, or yes, even moving your car every couple of hours to avoid a ticket.