Hyland Hills Ski Area enters the 2015-16 season with a new chalet and other improvements, thanks to a $14 million overhaul. But it’s also facing criticism for imposing a fee at a parking lot.
A post on NewSchoolers.com, for example, lambasted the Three Rivers Park District, which owns and operates Hyland, for setting “the record for the most ridiculous parking fee to vertical rise ratio in the world.” It also mocks the district for its work to “suck money off of naive soccer moms and Maserati dads,” and putting young customers who drive themselves out of luck.
The parking fee for the lot, near the chalet, is $20.
At first blush, it seems ridiculous, not to mention outrageous. It’s certainly more than you’d pay to park ($0) at the other local ski areas. But there’s more to the story than simple outrage, and getting there requires a consideration of some facts.
The most obvious fact is that Hyland has a very small footprint. Its parking lot is small, and landlocked, meaning there’s not much room to expand it.So crowd control can be a problem. Hence, the fee.
The fee applies only during the peak times: after 2 p.m on weekdays, on weekends, and on holidays. If you don’t want to pay the fee, then you can park in a nearby shuttle lot and take a quick bus ride to the chalet — which is probably what you’ve been doing in years past anyway.
Parking at the chalet has long been so scarce that the park district has regularly used a shuttle bus system to deal with overflow. The main overflow lot, called the Normandale lot, has more than double the spots of the chalet lot, and using it has traditionally been a part of the Hyland experience. (On extremely busy days, Hyland has even shuttled people from a lot by Bush Lake, a two-mile ride on a winding and hilly road.)
Before this season, if you wanted to snag a spot near the chalet during peak times, you had to drive around until a spot opened up. The result of lots of people doing this was congestion in the lot and increased traffic on Chalet Road, which leads into the lot. The latter phenomenon displeased both neighborhood residents (the chalet is at the end of a dead-end road) and city officials. By encouraging people to park in the Normandale lot, the new system should reduce both problems.
By changing to a pay system, the park district changes the logic of allocating spots at the chalet. Before, parking was on a first-come-first-serve basis. During off-peak times, that was not a problem. But during peak times, you would see a queue of cars waiting to get into a close-in spot. Any decent economist could tell you that if you see a line of people, that’s a sign that the price of whatever is being served (in this case, a parking spot) is too low. (If in fact $20 is too high, the lot will be unused and everyone will use either a drop-off option or use the shuttle. It’s likely that the park district would then lower the fee.)
The pay system, by contrast, operates on the value proposition: If you place sufficient value on parking near the chalet, you pay; if you don’t, you park and take the shuttle. And if these are Maserati parking spots, as the NewSchool writer mentioned, you also might call them a (voluntary) tax on the wealthy — something that is not exactly unheard of in Minnesota.
As newly configured, the parking lot at the chalet has three areas: A drop-off zone for personal vehicles, a drop-off zone for buses, and paid parking spots. Fred Seymour, director of alpine services for the park district, says that the new setup helps separate out the separate functions served by these areas.
The new parking system uses a machine to dispense tickets, as is the case with many parking lots elsewhere.
When the buses are scheduled to run, they run on a continual basis, said Seymour. And on the few times that I’ve visited Hyland during a peak period, I haven’t had to wait long for a bus.
The chalet lot now has 167 parking spots available, with 20 reserved as handicapped spots under the Americans With Disabilities Act. (People with a handicap license plate can park free of charge.) The Normandale Lot has 359 total spots (eight spots are handicapped spots).