By Tyler Olsen and Jeff Nagel
While Delta and Mission have bylaws prohibiting Fraser Health from charging for pay parking at those hospitals, Abbotsford council doesn’t have the authority to make parking free at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, according to Mayor Henry Braun.
Fraser Health’s policy – long denounced by hospital users as a heartless cash grab – came under fire again at a Jan. 29 meeting of Fraser’s board of directors in White Rock.
Langley Township resident Harold Nagy demanded to know why Delta and Mission don’t have “this B.S. about pay parking” while patients and visitors must pay at other hospitals.
Delta and Mission are the only two municipalities that have bylaws that prohibit pay parking at hospitals.
“They should all be free,” Nagy said, adding the charges make some patients worry they’ll run out of time and be fined. “It’s a place of necessity when you go there. It’s not like going out for supper.”
Not all councils have the power to prohibit pay parking at hospitals, Braun told The News on Tuesday. In Abbotsford’s case, the parking lot is on private property.
“The city has no jurisdiction with any bylaw prohibiting pay parking,” Braun said.
Mission Memorial Hospital’s free parking stems from a memorandum of understanding signed between the district and Fraser Health following the redevelopment of the hospital. The agreement runs until 2018.
Braun said he empathizes with emergency room patients. He recalled his one ER visit, for a hamstring injury: “My first thought was ‘Man, I don’t have time to go pay because my leg is killing me.’”
Braun said that while the city may have been able to make a case for free parking during negotiations for the hospital’s redevelopment, that time has likely passed.
“If citizens are concerned about this, they should be discussing this with their MLAs and Fraser Health.”
About a third of the $8 million Fraser earns from pay parking goes to maintain the lots and the rest flows into the authority’s budget for patient care.
“Personally, I wish it could be consistent,” Fraser Health board chair Karen Matty told Black Press. “But we do not write bylaws in the various communities.”
The Canadian Medical Association Journal once likened pay parking to an unfair user fee that can add stress for patients and disrupt their care if they have to go out and feed a meter.
Fraser provides free parking passes for renal dialysis patients and grants other financial hardship parking permits on a case-by-case basis.
For everyone else, Matty predicts hospital pay parking is here to stay.
“Having to pay for parking is something that people need to get their head around,” she said.
“I don’t want to pay for parking. But parking seems to be becoming a premium here in B.C., especially the Lower Mainland. And I think we are all getting used to that fact.”
Part of the rationale for pay parking is it spurs stall rotation, so some spaces are available when patients and visitors need them and aren’t occupied all day by users from surrounding businesses.
Parking costs $3.50 an hour at most hospitals in the Fraser region, although that starts at $4.25 at Burnaby, Royal Columbian and Surrey Memorial hospitals, while hourly rates are lower in the eastern Fraser Valley – $2.50 in Abbotsford, $1.75 in Chilliwack and free in Hope.