Aspen-Pitkin County Airport officials are making plans to ask county commissioners to approve a hike in airport parking rates, in part to discourage the rising number of commuters using the relatively inexpensive lots as they would a park-and-ride facility.
A Pitkin County alert has been issued three times since the beginning of May and the heart of the spring off-season to warn that the lots are “nearing capacity.” The most recent alert was sent at 5:56 p.m. Monday and asked those who needed to get to the airport to carpool or take the bus.
Airport controller Chris Padilla noted Monday that the airport’s parking rates are lower than they are in the city of Aspen’s commercial core. Commuters appear to be taking advantage of those low rates in lieu of using free park-and-ride facilities at Brush Creek or further downvalley, then catching a bus.
“Using the airport gets them that much closer to town,” Padilla said, “which to them means a little less time on a bus.”
But, he suggested, that’s not the only reason why the short- and long-term lots are filling up. Local residents flying out of Aspen for off-season travel are finding it convenient to park their vehicles at the airport in lieu of taking a bus or a cab, or asking friends to drop them off.
Also, the first hour of parking in either airport lot is free, and people are said to be parking there and then accessing the local trails system for day use: to hike, for instance, or to walk their dogs.
There are 114 spaces in Lot A, the short-term spot, and 145 spaces in Lot B, which is for long-term parkers. Both are about equal in proximity to the terminal, Padilla said. The long-term lot offers rates of $6 per day, while the short-term lot is $2 per hour for first six hours, with a max of $12 per day.
He said the airport has been working with city and county staff to develop three different options to present to commissioners. The official request likely will be initiated sometime within the next 30 to 45 days, he said.
In mid-December, the airport began enforcing a nationwide Transportation Safety Administration regulation that says motorists cannot park directly in front of a terminal building – in the area designated for drop-offs and pick-ups – and leave their vehicles unattended to go inside. The public was warned that those who failed to comply would run the risk of having their cars towed to a lot on airport grounds.
That enforcement didn’t go so well, with many motorists taking their anger out on employees of a local private security firm that beefed up its staff to patrol the front of the terminal and keep people from leaving their vehicles unattended. In at least one instance, a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy was called to the scene to check a report of abuse directed at security personnel.
At the end of this month, the drop-off/pick-up parking area will be eliminated completely, Padilla said, to implement a system that’s more common at other airports. The new process will consist of striped lanes that still allow motorists to pick up and drop off passengers, but there will be no parking spaces.
The security firm that was assisting enforcement in front of the terminal no longer is being used because of an issue in which people alleged rudeness. The firm, however, is still handling after-hours patrol. When the striped lanes are in place, airport staff will take over the function of requiring motorists to move along, at least initially, Padilla said.
To accommodate those who need to go inside the building to assist friends, family or others with baggage and such, the airport wants to continue to provide free parking in the short- and long-term lots, Padilla said. That time will be shortened, however, to 30 minutes in the short-term lot, Lot A, and 15 minutes in the long-term lot, Lot B.
With passenger counts on the rise in recent years, coupled with more locals using the parking lots for various reasons, the airport’s parking revenue has been climbing significantly, Padilla said.
Revenue increased about 36 percent from 2017’s $522,000 to 2018’s $713,000. Revenue is on pace to hit $900,000 this year, but if the higher rates are implemented, that figure is unlikely to be realized, he said.
In another move to handle the increased parking load, the airport plans to increase its capacity by taking over spaces in what is currently a long-term storage area for rental cars. The area would be dedicated to overflow from the long-term lot, Padilla said.
A working draft of the suggestions for new parking rates was unavailable Monday afternoon.