For the first time since a parking rate structure was implemented at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2006, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners has agreed to increase the fees — but only for those using the lots for less than 12 hours.
It’s not that anyone wanted to penalize flyers — or anyone, really — who use the airport for parking. But, according to county and airport officials, something had to be done to accommodate the uptick in travelers, particularly during the summer months.
Much of the problem, airport director John Kinney told commissioners during their special meeting Wednesday, came down to daytime commuters taking up valuable real estate to avoid the more expensive parking fees in Aspen’s downtown core.
“Bottom line, there’s a shortage of parking at the airport during peak times,” he said. “Especially during the summer when we have more locals flying.”
The airport saw an 8.5 percent passenger increase in June compared with the same month last year, from 45,377 to 49,593.
“That’s about 139 passengers more on a daily basis,” Kinney said.
To ensure that passengers and the motorists picking them up and dropping them off are the ones utilizing the airport’s parking lots, Kinney, alongside airport controller Chris Padilla, made two primary suggestions: rework the parking fee structure to dissuade daytime parking and create a free waiting period — what Kinney calls the “cellphone lot” — that’s free for up to two hours for those waiting to pick up travelers.
The latter solution creates an alternative to parking at the curbside in front of the terminal, a longtime practice the airport eliminated last December to comply with a Transportation Security Administration order.
“People are still definitely adjusting to it,” Kinney said, though he conceded that the airport took full advantage of a grace period lasting “about a decade” after the TSA mandated the rule.
“It pushed people out to the parking lot,” he said. “It begged the question: Can we create a waiting period?”
At Wednesday’s meeting, that’s exactly what Kinney presented to the BOCC, and he’s hoping to implement the plan quickly, describing the waiting area as an “immediate, probably next-30-days fix for us to push people from curbside out to that cellphone waiting area.”
The other part of the plan, of course, were the increased fees. Currently, there are two parking lots: Lot A for short-term parking and Lot B for long-term stays. The first hour is free in both lots, then a $2 per additional hour applies to short-term parking with a $12-per-day maximum. In long-term parking, it’s essentially half that, with $1 per additional hour charged until reaching a $6 daily maximum.
Under the resolution the BOCC adopted yesterday, there will be three parking lots — Lot A, Lot B and Lot C — in addition to the waiting area and a sizable rental car lot, which will also store snowplows in the winters.
Lot A will still be the closest in proximity to the actual airport and will continue to serve as short-term parking. As such, the cost structure will remain the same — for vehicles parked for more than 12 hours.
Kinney reasoned that those parked for more than 12 hours are more likely actual flyers. By the same token, those parked between one and 12 hours are more likely to be daytime commuters from elsewhere in the valley.
In effect, the new, more expensive cost structure will apply to the latter.
“If you exceed 12 hours, you’re automatically at the $12 rate,” Kinney said.
If you don’t, then after the first half hour, which will be free, you’ll pay $2 for the subsequent half hour and another $2 for the full hour after that. Every hour after the first two hours will jump to $6 per hour with a maximum of $40.
Similarly, lots B and C will offer a free 30 minutes, with the next 30 minutes costing $1 and the subsequent hour costing another $1. Every hour after the first two hours will also cost $6 until the $40 maximum.
Kinney assured commissioners several times during the meeting that the new rates only apply for the first 12 hours, which earned their appreciation.
“I can support this. I think it’s fair,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “I don’t think it hits the people who just happen to be there two hours, three hours.”
For those who do need a commuter lot, Clapper emphasized that Buttermilk is a viable option.
“We have a short-term [lot] that’s free for commuters,” she said. “They have an unloading and construction area. Then we have long-term parking for people. It’s not a campground; it’s a long-term parking area for people who need to park there to hike the Four Mountain Loop, those kinds of things.”
As for the airport conversation, Clapper also brought up the opportunity to raise awareness for travelers about the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority upon their arrival.
“Inside the baggage area, I don’t think there is a RFTA bus schedule, signage,” she said. “I think that might make taking the bus a little more palatable for people.”
Kinney was very receptive.
“Good comment,” he noted. “We can make that happen.”