Parking fees at Truscott are a seriously bad idea |

Parking fees at Truscott are a seriously bad idea

In their zeal to discourage the use of the private automobile by the upper valley’s working classes, our government’s transportation wardens have tried to go just a little too far this time.

Yesterday, the housing board wisely declined to go along with a seriously wrong-headed proposal to punish affordable housing residents who dare to own and drive an automobile. But there’s still a chance the proposal can be approved by the City Council, so let us now add our voice to those who have decried this mistake-in-the-making.

The city’s transportation and environmental health departments recommended that, for those who will live in the expanded Truscott Place housing complex, the ownership and use of a private car be viewed as almost a violation of a social compact. And, as such, that it be grounds for a new form of punishment – the payment of absurdly high fees to park and use one’s car.

According to the transportation department, local government must be ready to impose severe measures to discourage Truscott residents from owning cars or operating them.

Parking, according to the transportation department, should cost $100 per month per car. And if that isn’t enough to convince the denizens of Truscott to abandon their vehicles, they should be forced to pay a graduated fee for having the sheer nerve to drive into town. The first 15 trips each month would be “free,” after that a fee – really, a fine – would be imposed for every trip to Aspen. And that fine, moreover, would escalate with increasing violations, until it costs $6 for every trip to town.

This idea is not merely absurd, it is downright insulting. It is a clear statement by government that working-class citizens are somehow less deserving of individual liberties than those who can afford to buy homes on the free market.

If this housing were being given, gratis, to the recipients, well, then there might be some justification for such fees. But the people in Truscott will be paying high rents – high to people with limited income, make no mistake about it – for the privilege of living in the upper valley.

Let us bear in mind the rationale for building Truscott: that Aspen desperately needs another 800 to 1,000 affordable housing units in order to hang onto its livability. This housing is being built for the greater good of the community, not as a favor “granted by the grace of the omnipotent government” to a few lucky serfs.

Imposing high fees for parking would not keep people from owning cars. It would simply raise the rent at the supposedly “affordable” housing project. The result would simply be a justifiable general anger among the tenants over being gouged unfairly by the government that is supposed to be looking out for their interests.

At that, they could understandably conclude that this was just another attempt by an uncaring bureaucracy to lord it over people who are under the government’s thumb and helpless to do anything but suffer in pained silence.

Thankfully, the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority board of directors has taken one look at this plan, which one staffer labeled “Draconian” in a memo to the board, and rejected it outright.

The City Council should do the same. This kind of repressive treatment of our working citizens is not the way to save a community’s soul, which is how the housing program has been characterized in government documents and public meetings.

Improving mass transit, providing covered bike shelters and taxi vouchers … there are any number of other, better ways to get at this problem. We must be creative in searching out those better ways, and when we find ways that treat people with respect and understanding, the population will respond in kind.

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