Bus ridership up, frontage road days down with Vail’s new parking program | VailDaily.com

Bus ridership up, frontage road days down with Vail’s new parking program

Vail is touting the success of its new winter parking strategy

The town of Vail is reporting fewer days of its structures filling in the 2022-23 ski season.
Ali Longwell/Vail Daily

The start of ski season this year brought changes to Vail’s parking program. The changes were meant to encourage other types of transit to the town and higher turnover of parking spaces as well as reduce the number of overflow days onto the South Frontage Road.

The rollout of the program was met with criticism from some locals and employees, citing concerns over the higher prices, the timing of overnight parking charges as well as opening historically employee-designated lots to the public.

However, now a few months into the winter season, the town is touting the successes of its program thus far.  

Greg Hall, the town’s director of public works and transportation, said that the town has been hitting some of its goals, including “less days on the frontage road, smaller volume and overall less transaction.” During some of the busier times, Hall said there has been some more turnover of spaces and less overnight vehicles, which frees up more spaces during the day.”

Overall, the town has seen an increase in revenues from the increased pass and parking rates. In a December revenue update, the town reported that daily sales from its parking structures from November through Dec. 26, 2022, were up 8.9% — totaling $1,354,872 — from the same time in the previous year. That same update reported that pass sales for the 2022-23 ski season were up 20% — totaling $1,419,484 — from the previous season.

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‘That wasn’t why we did it’

Even with revenue up, the overall number of passes sold is down year over year. The town sold 4,354 passes this current season, which is a nearly 16% decrease from the previous year.

At the Tuesday, Jan. 16, Town Council meeting, Council member Kevin Foley acknowledged this increase in revenues, but stated “that wasn’t why we did it.”

Foley added that despite some days on the frontage road, “it does look like we’re meeting our objectives.”

One of the program’s primary stated objectives of the new program was to “encourage the use of alternative modes of mobility.”

More specifically, it had a goal to reach a 10% reduction in all parking transactions throughout the season. To this extent, the town reported it has seen a 33% increase in bus ridership from last year and a 5% decrease in total transactions.

Fewer overflow days … so far

Encouraging alternative modality uses (outside of vehicles) was also meant to achieve another town objective of reducing the number of days the parking structures fill and the number of frontage road overflow days. The town has seen an increase in frontage road overflow over the past several seasons.

In the 2021-22 season, there were 53 days with overflow parking — up from 35 days in the 2020-21 and 2018-19 seasons. However, in order to align with the agreements the town has with the Colorado Department of Transportation as well as its climate action goals, the town set a goal to only utilize overflow parking for 15 days in the upcoming season. 

So far this season, as of Monday, Jan. 16, the town has overflowed onto the frontage road eight days, compared to 14 during the same time last year. Compared to last year, the town has also seen a reduction in the number of days its structures have filled. For Vail Village, by Jan. 8, 2023, it had filled 13 times compared to 18 in the same time frame last year. For Lionshead, using the same dates, it has filled seven times this season compared to 14 last year.

Making adjustments for locals

One of the strategies used by the town this winter to try and reduce the number of days the structures filled was to encourage the use of its outlying lots at Red Sandstone, Ford Park and the soccer lot. This was a source of criticism by many local employees as these lots had historically only been available to employees with passes.

In order to alleviate this concern, the town has made the outlying lots available to pass holders only once they hit 75% capacity.

“At the moment, I don’t think we’ve had to do that for Red Sandstone since the construction or had to close down Ford Park,” said Ethan Arnold, a parking supervisor for the town of Vail. “At this point, a pass holder hasn’t had to find a place to park. Ford Park has always had spaces available.”

According to the most recent report from the town, Red Sandstone filled twice this season, but both days came prior to the lot fully opening on Dec. 23, 2022. Prior to that, the second floor had been closed for maintenance. The report also notes that pass transactions account for around 88% of the lot’s transactions, around 6% from local passes, and 4.9% from drive-up transactions.

The Ford Park and soccer lots saw a similar split of use. At Ford Park, pass transactions comprised 85% of total transactions, 5.69% were local pass transactions and 8.9% were drive-up users with no passes. At the soccer lot, 88.16% came from pass holders, 8.42% from local pass holders, and 3.37% from non-pass holders.                                                       

There have been additional community comments regarding the town’s overnight charge, which kicks in when an individual is parked after 4 a.m. At the Dec. 20 Town Council meeting, Dave Chapin, an owner of Vendetta’s, said the new program didn’t “take care of our late-night service and bar people.”

“Many times these people are there until 4 o’clock in the morning; there’s a lot to do, a lot of cleanup, get the bar ready for the next day, that type of thing,” Chapin said. “I had two of my employees get charged $60 when they left work a little after 4 o’clock. There was no discussion; there was no chance to change it.”

Chapin added that employers are already having “a hard enough time in this town recruiting employees” and urged the town to find a solution.

Hall said that there were “very few” instances of this happening, but that the town has worked with those individual employees to resolve any issues.

The town’s Parking and Mobility Task Force is about to reconvene later this month to review the program and discuss future enhancements and possible next phases of implementation.

 “We’re going to be coming back to you with a more robust update after talking to the task force, sharing observations and recommendations,” said Town Manager Russ Forrest. “So if we have to make any changes we’ve got plenty of time before next winter.”

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