Starting today, motorists to pay 50 percent more to park downtown

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Mindy Vernon pays for a meter outside of Wells Fargo on Mill Street on Tuesday, the day before downtown parking rates increase by 50 percent for the months of June, July and August.
Jeremy Wallace / The Aspen Times |

If you plan to park in downtown Aspen today, make sure you have the extra funds to pay for it. Downtown parking fees in metered spaces are increasing 50 percent as part of a three-month experiment administered by the city. “The message I’m trying to get out is yes, there is a 50 percent increase in the core but no changes in the parking garage or the residential area or the carpool permits or the (Brush Creek) Intercept Lot,” Mitch Osur, the city’s parking director, said Tuesday.

Another change motorists will see is in parking enforcement. While the city’s meters state that paid parking is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the last hour hasn’t been enforced for at least the past three years, Osur said. That’s been an open secret throughout town, but Osur said two parking officers will patrol the downtown streets until 6 p.m. from now on.

Osur admittedly has caught some flack about the inflated fees, but he has emphasized giving the experiment a chance. Some members of the Aspen Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, at a February meeting, told Osur it appeared as if the city was sticking it to locals and taking advantage of visitors with the higher fares.

“People have told me you’re trying to kill us by moving us out of the core,” he said.

That’s not the case, Osur insisted. The experiment will be deemed financially successful, he said, if an additional $50,000 in parking fees are captured during the months of June, July and August, for a total of $150,000. The city also is paying roughly $1,000 to San Francisco-based Smarking, a start-up parking consultant firm founded by MIT graduates, to provide feedback on the effectiveness of the increased fares.

Additional revenue, however, isn’t the only objective of the experiment, Osur and city leaders have said.

“We need people to know this is not a money grab,” Councilman Adam Frisch said at a February council meeting.

Whatever extra cash is generated would help fund such municipal transportation programs as the free, on-demand taxi service this summer, along with shuttle service, free bike tunes and other benefits for Aspen residents.

Another one of the trial period’s goals is to steer working locals away from parking in the downtown core during one of the busiest times of the year.

Freeing up downtown’s metered spaces will ease traffic congestion, Osur has theorized, while at the same time visitors will be willing to pay the higher rates.

“Our goal is to have about 90 percent (parking) occupancy in the streets, if we’re assuming we (historically) are at 100 percent,” he said. “So if we can move 10 percent of those people out, we’ll call that a success. What we’re hoping also is to limit congestion in a town that is over-crowded.”

Osur said he hopes people capitalize on the $50, 10-punch passes that drivers can use at the city’s Rio Grande Parking Garage.

“I’m going to be totally disappointed if we don’t see an increase in the parking garage,” he said.