Aspen-Pitkin County Airport officials on Tuesday laid out new options for how to address the recent shortage of parking spaces, including a plan that would effectively raise rates for those who park at the transportation facility without having any business to conduct there.
Airport Director John Kinney, accompanied by four of his administrators, outlined the ideas during a work session of county commissioners. He spoke of how certain areas will be transformed to create additional public parking and waiting spots for people who are picking up passengers.
Toward the end of the discussion, after noting that he wasn’t proposing a rate increase, he spoke of one way in which he feels an increase would be effective. By targeting those who park at the airport between one hour and 12 hours with a fee of $35, airport officials believe they can steer away those who are said to be misusing the lots.
Kinney estimated that every day, at least 40 work commuters and other day users park their cars at the airport and then go elsewhere, such as to Aspen via the public bus line or to nearby hiking trails with their dogs.
His analysis showed that 20 percent of parkers at the public lots are using the spaces between one and 12 hours. Taking advantage of extremely low rates compared with parking fees in the city of Aspen, “those people aren’t flying,” Kinney said, later adding that “there are some exceptions to this rule.”
In order not to penalize those who are conducting business at the airport, parking attendants would allow those who present a boarding pass to pay the existing low rates.
“We’re not here to penalize someone who’s dealing with a delayed flight,” said airport controller Chris Padilla.
Currently, rates for the short-term lot, or Lot A, are free for the first hour, $2 per hour starting with the second hour and $12 per day for the maximum charge. Rates for the long-term lot, or Lot B, are free for the first hour, $1 per hour starting from the second hour and $6 per day for the maximum.
Airport parking-rate increases would have to be approved by a majority of county commissioners. The idea of the special rate for people who aren’t using the airport appeared to gain traction among commissioners, but many said they wanted more details. The matter was set for a special meeting on Aug. 21.
Some said the higher rate shouldn’t go into effect until someone has parked in the lot for at least 90 minutes: Perhaps they are waiting in the terminal for a friend or relative to arrive, but the flight has been delayed more than an hour.
“We’ll bring back specifics,” Kinney said, referring to the next discussion and possible vote on Aug. 21.
Kinney also spoke of a new advertising campaign aimed at those who are upset over the airport’s new system for dropping off and picking up passengers in front of the terminal.
For decades, motorists were allowed to park in front of the terminal for short periods, often leaving their cars unattended to deal with travelers coming or going. Late last year, the Transportation Safety Administration told the airport to nix that system, calling it a safety risk.
In mid-December, signs were put in place and attendants monitored the situation to keep people from leaving their cars unattended in the spaces in front of the terminal. But many airport users fought back, verbally harassing the workers monitoring the spaces, given that they were in the habit of parking directly in front of the terminal and going inside for various lengths of time.
In late spring, the airport eliminated the spaces adjacent to the terminal and created “slip lanes” that motorists can use to quickly pick up or drop off travelers. That system hasn’t gone so well either, with some locals and others complaining of being rushed away from the area and forced to park in one of the lots or drive in circles until the person they are picking up arrives.
“A lot of folks simply don’t like the change,” Kinney said. “There has been a tremendous amount of push-back.”
According to Kinney, people have been “abusive toward staff. We’re just asking, don’t shoot the messenger.”
The ads, which have already appeared in local newspapers, feature a hippie with the messages, “Peace out, bro” and “Take a cue from the ’60s, show some love and respect.”
Also during the meeting, Kinney presented data showing that in June, the airport realized an 8.5 percent increase in passengers over June 2018 and a 34 percent increase over June 2017.
Tuesday’s discussion included other potential solutions to improve customer service at the airport in relation to parking, including a reservation system, a valet, a “widget” on the airport website that indicates when parking lots are full (or nearly full) and removing parking-lot berms to create additional spaces.