Vail, like Park City, explores changing winter parking fees
For nearly a decade, ski-season prices have remained stable in the town’s parking structures. This is likely to change for the season to come.
Vail’s Parking and Transportation Task Force, a group of residents, business owners and town officials, has been working since the summer to evaluate parking demand, supply and pricing.
The Vail Town Council saw the results of that work at its Tuesday, Sept. 19 meeting. While the council didn’t make any hard decisions following the presentation, members gave a clear signal that it’s probably time to change parking rates.
While the town charges for parking, those charges aren’t meant to generate profits. Rather, the charges help pay for the town’s parking structure operations and some of the town’s free bus service.
The point, council member Greg Moffet said, is to influence the behavior of locals and guests through the age-old laws of supply and demand.
That’s why Vail residents can get a 50 percent discount on parking rates from Sunday through Thursday during ski season (county residents get a 40 percent break). On weekends, when there’s more demand for parking, everyone pays the same rates.
“It’s all about not using your car,” Mayor Dave Chapin said.
That’s going to become more important over the next few years as Vail Health’s parking structure is torn down as part of the facility’s long-term renovation program.
ALTERNATIVES TO DRIVING
The task force has recommended that the town start marketing alternatives including walking, ride-sharing and, of course, transit use.
While prices are almost sure to increase, how much pass and daily rates rise is up to the council.
There was some debate among members about both pass prices and per-day prices.
The task force’s recommendation is to charge $40 for a 24-hour ski-season stay in one of the town’s two parking structures.
“Why not 60?,” Moffet asked, adding that the town’s charge for a full-day stay should match or exceed that of local hotels. Some hotels recommend guests park in the structures in order to save a bit on their lodging bills.
On the other hand, council member Jenn Bruno said a $40 charge is probably sufficient.
“I don’t want to charge 2022 prices,” Bruno said, adding she’d like to see vouchers for businesses to offer their customers. Customers might linger longer in town if they can get a break on their parking fees, she said.
Then there’s the matter of people parking overnight so they don’t drive drunk. Allowances are made for those users now, and council members said they want that policy to continue.
Perhaps the most controversial increases will be for the town’s parking pass program, and reducing the length of time people can park for free in the structures.
For the past several years, people have been able to park free for two hours. The task force has recommended dropping that free-parking period to 90 minutes.
The reduction would come as a way to discourage “looping” in the structures by employees. Many employees now leave the structures, then drive right back in, in order to avoid paying for parking.
Chapin said the problem is particularly bad in the Vail Village structure, where people can drive through the ticket booth on the east side, and drive right back to the entry point to the west.
Chapin said he’s heard of people removing orange cones and, at times, verbally abusing parking employees who try to stop them.
That problem may be solved by putting solid pylons, not cones between the exit and entrance.
Changing pass prices may also generate some complaints. The task force has recommended raising the price of the Pink pass — the lowest-priced town pass that allows parking at Ford Park and the town’s soccer fields — from $150 to $300.
While council member Jen Mason said that increase will be a hardship for some users, council member Dick Cleveland said the increase might push some users to take the bus.
“Our parking is cheap and convenient,” Cleveland said. “It’s worth $300 to cover five months of parking.”
While the fee changes may help change some behavior, Moffet said the changes might put pressure on Eagle County’s ECO Transit to improve its service into town.
“We’ll get short shrift when people aren’t screaming for better service to Vail,” Moffet said. “This can be a political tool to get better service out of (the county).”
The council will likely set winter rates at one of its two meetings in October, either Oct. 3 or Oct. 17.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.