NDP leader Adrian Dix is promising to examine whether the policy of charging patients and visitors to park at Lower Mainland hospitals is appropriate.
But he’s not guaranteeing an NDP government would handle the pay parking issue any differently and says the province can’t simply give up the money that’s generated.
“I take it seriously and I’m going to review it,” Dix told Black Press in an interview.
“But you have to find the revenue. It’s not very much, but you still have to find it.”
The Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities took in $19 million from parking fees in 2011 – less than one per cent of their combined budgets.
“If you’re going to say no to that revenue then you have to find other revenues,” Dix said. “It’s not as easy as saying ‘I’d like people to park for free.'”
The cost of paying to park at hospitals has been a growing source of complaints in recent years from people who argue the fees are unfair.
“It’s a cash grab,” charges Peter Kirsebom, an 82-year-old South Surrey senior who says he was going to start a petition the last time he got worked up about the issue.
“In Delta, you don’t pay anything,” he said, referring to that municipality’s bylaw banning pay parking at the hospital.
He said his appointments at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre often run half an hour late, forcing him to shell out for two hours instead of one.
“That’s eight bucks – it’s too much.”
Maple Ridge’s mayor recently vowed, after similar local complaints, to explore whether his municipality could follow Delta’s footsteps and either ban pay parking or persuade Fraser Health to drop the fees.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid told CTV last month it was difficult for health authorities to absorb parking costs and the current system was unlikely to change.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2011 argued pay parking amounts to an unfair user fee that can disrupt patient care.
It said parking charges should be waived at least for patients as they add avoidable stress and may cause some to abruptly end a consultation to feed a meter and avoid fines.
Dix said there are arguments for dropping the fees or altering the structure, but added rural B.C. residents “face more dramatic issues” because of the centralization of hospital services in more distant centres.
Fraser Health spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward said about a third of the parking fee revenue collected goes to providing parking services – paving, lighting, security and management fees to a pay parking firm like Impark.
The remaining two-thirds goes into general health system funding.
Thorpe-Dorward said there are no plans to change the system, nor has the health authority given up on extending pay parking to the ‘free’ hospitals in Delta and Mission.
“We still have a goal over the long term of introducing pay parking at those sites to offset the costs,” he said. “But it’s not something we’re pushing or pursuing.”
He said health authorities have numerous programs where patients and others may get discounted monthly parking passes and in some cases complimentary parking.
Renal dialysis patients, for example, get free parking permits.
Fines issued to patients whose time on the meter ran out because their appointment ran too long can be reversed on compassionate grounds, he added.
Part of the rationale for pay parking is that it encourages stall rotation, so some spaces are available when people need them and they aren’t hogged by users from surrounding businesses.
Delta’s bylaw against pay parking has also blocked TransLink from charging at its park and ride there.