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Parking at airport: `It stinks’ or `I like it’

John Colson

After a month of operations, the new pay-in-advance parking system at Sardy Field seems to have settled into a kind of stasis.

Most people seem to be adapting to the change with relatively few complaints. Still, a smaller number of people are deeply outraged by it and scofflaws try to sneak in and out quickly without paying when the attendant has to step away from the booth for a moment. The county is generally satisfied with the way the new system is working out at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

Ask any six users of the short-term lot, however, and you’re likely to get the same kind of responses an Aspen Times reporter got on Memorial Day – everything from “it stinks” to “I like it.” The system The new system was installed at the beginning of May in both the short-term and long-term lots, and operates in much the same way as the parking meters in downtown Aspen.

To park in the short-term lot, a motorist now pulls through the entrance (no longer having to take a ticket from the dispensing machine) and up to one of two parking meters in the lot. After estimating how long he or she will be in the airport, the motorist deposits the requisite amount of money ($1 per hour in the short-term lot, no deviation for quarter-hour departures and no more first five minutes free), then receives a ticket to be placed on the dashboard.

That accomplished, the motorist gets back into the car, drives to an open space and parks.

The same occurs in the long-term lot, except that there are three machines. It costs $5 a day (or $25 for five to seven days) and it’s so crowded these days that cars have been directed to park in auxiliary lots several times this year.

Overpayments in the long-term lot can be refunded, and if someone pulls in to park long-term and has to run for a plane, the attendant – there still is someone in the booth during business hours – will put a sticker on the windshield of the traveler’s car and collect the fee when he or she returns.

The county is assessing the company in charge of this new system, AMPCO, a flat fee of $120,000 per year and 75 percent of its gross annual revenues over $300,000, according to AMPCO’s Jeff Nethery in Denver.

When that is compared to last year’s take of roughly $140,000 in total revenues, county officials are expecting to collect considerably more money from the new system. Preliminary estimates indicate that AMPCO is anticipating 10 percent greater revenues from the short-term lot, and a 14 percent increase from the long-term lot.

Nethery said the company has a similar system in place at the Sun Valley/Hailey (Idaho) airport, and that it has been working out well there. The reactions But judging by the reactions among users of the short-term lot this week, AMPCO has a ways to go before it can say the system is being well received.

Of six people interviewed on a blustery Memorial Day, only one said he actually prefers the new system over the old one.

“I like it better,” said Mike Duffy of Glenwood Springs. “It just makes things easier.” Then he looked around surreptitiously and added quietly, “I don’t know how many other people feel that way.”

Jim Grant of New Castle, who parks at the airport “twice a year, maybe,” said he, too, has no objections to the new system.

“It’s fine,” he said, “I have no problem with it.”

But after walking to the meter, getting his chit and walking back to his car to place the chit on the dash, he returned saying, “They could put that machine up at the front [by the attendant’s booth] so you could get it done before you come into the lot.”

Loan Bui, a diminutive Aspenite who had trouble understanding how the machine operates, said flatly when asked of her assessment of the new system, “I don’t like it.”

Katherine Chauvin, a Snowmass Village resident, seemed disappointed when she realized she would have to pay $1 for parking for 10 minutes or less. But, when asked for her judgment on the new system, she said, “I guess it’s all right. Any kind of change takes a little while to get used to. Just think of all that additional revenue. It’ll be amazing.”

Two downvalley residents, however, were immediate and direct in their condemnation of the system.

“I think it sucks; I think it’s stupid,” was the declaration of Bill Johnson of Carbondale, criticizing the need to park, then go get the slip of paper from the machine and return to the car. “It’s really wonderful in the rain,” he continued. “I liked the old system, with the little guy in the booth – a human being.”

Scott Emery of Glenwood was equally disparaging in his assessment.

“It stinks. It is the worst thing I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of awful things in Aspen,” he fumed. “It just makes the parking situation in Aspen perfect.”

He said the new system is “inefficient” in design, because of all the walking a user must do, and because there is still a need for a person in the attendant’s booth to walk around and make sure all the parked cars have paid their appropriate fees.

“Where’s the efficiency in that?” he asked incredulously.


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