Pitkin County to look at airport tax for ‘green initiatives’

Aspen airport officials plan to propose a tax on rental cars and ground transportation by the end of the year that would go toward paying for “green initiatives” at the facility like charging stations for electric cars.

The “carbon offset tax” of between $1 and $1.50 would be added to the current $5.50 customer facility charge tax already levied on those who rent cars at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, said Chris Padilla, the airport’s controller.

The exact amount of the tax on other ground transportation, which will include Uber rides, shuttles and other transportation used at the airport, has not yet been worked out, though it will be on a sliding scale, said John Kinney, airport director.

“We’re looking to move on this pretty quickly,” Padilla said.

The idea for the tax came about after a recent discussion by Pitkin County commissioners, who were set to approve lease contracts with rental car companies for space at the airport. In light of a recently approved climate action plan, commissioners wondered if they could require the companies to make a percentage of their rental fleet offerings electric or hybrid.

Padilla and Kinney said at the time that any changes to the contract would have to be approved by the companies, which was not likely to happen before the contracts were set to go into effect Nov. 1.

Board Chairman Greg Poschman said Wednesday he was frustrated that commissioners didn’t hear about the specifics of the rental car contracts until they were nearly a done deal. Poschman and other board members agreed that future requests for all proposed contracts — not just those for airport rental cars — should include general information that the county’s climate action program should be taken into account when considering the contract.

Commissioners on Wednesday did approve lease contracts with car rental companies including Avis/Budget, Alamo/Enterprise/National, Hertz and Sixt. As part of the contracts, officials included a paragraph acknowledging the climate action plan and that the companies “shall promote the availability of environmentally friendly vehicles to customers when they rent at the airport.”

“Licensee shall make a good faith effort to include green vehicles (hybrid, hybrid electric, or other fuel-efficient vehicles) in their on-airport vehicle fleet,” the paragraph states.

The companies also must report back to the county within 90 days after the end of each calendar year about the percentage of green vehicles in their rental fleet during the previous year, the paragraph states. If no green vehicles were offered, the companies must provide documentation “demonstrating that it made good efforts in attempting to do so,” according to the agreement.

Kinnney and Padilla said they plan to bring back a separate resolution by the end of the year about the added use tax. County commissioners must approve the resolution before it goes into effect.

John Peacock, Pitkin County manager, said the green efforts at the airport could include solar panels atop structures in the rental car area that feed electric charging stations for electric cars. Commissioner Patti Clapper also said she’d like to see electric charging stations for the general public, as well.