Hospital paid parking a ‘bluff’ without real penalties: critics

Pay parking at hospitals is a “bluff” system of unenforceable tickets that lead to virtually no vehicles towed and disproportionately penalizes the health-care staff working at those sites, according to new statistics obtained by an anti-pay-parking group.

About 67 per cent of the 13,105 parking tickets issued at Vancouver Island hospitals were to nurses, health care workers, physicians and other staff at those hospitals, according to 2018-19 statistics obtained under the freedom of information law by advocacy group HospitalPayParking.ca.

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Not a single public vehicle was towed in that year at any Island hospital for failing to pay parking fines, the data showed. However, 13 staff vehicles were towed due to what Island Health said were between 13 and 35 unpaid tickets. Each ticket is a $25 fine.

“There is really no consequences from parking at a parking lot at a hospital and not paying,” said Jon Buss, spokesman for HospitalPayParking, which wants to eliminate paid parking at hospitals. “You’ll get a ticket, and it looks intentionally like a city-issued ticket, but it’s not. It’s a show. There’s more bark than bite.”

Island Health said in statement it would tow public visitors only “in extreme circumstances, for example their vehicle blocking an emergency access,” and otherwise it has clear guidelines that are empathetic to those who get tickets. About 26 per cent of tickets were cancelled last year, and 38 per cent remain unpaid.

It’s meaningless for the public to even pay for parking, or subsequent fines, if the overall compliance rate is only roughly one-third and no public vehicles will ever be towed, said Buss.

“It’s a bluff,” said Buss. “What backs this operation is a bunch of rhetoric and threats and lies, and this is borne out in the evidence.”

Health authorities have for years generated revenue from parking by hiring private companies to patrol and enforce their fees. Robbins Parking is the contractor on the Island, while Impark is the contractor for hospitals in Metro Vancouver and the rest of the province.

Critics argue that pay parking creates a financial barrier within the health-care system and is unfair to stressed and grieving visitors. But the government has said the revenue is necessary.

“The revenue stream from pay parking covers the cost of parking infrastructure, maintenance, lighting, painting, security and snow removal,” said Island Health’s statement.

Revenue generated from parking fees at all health authorities is approximately $40 million annually, up from $15 million in 2003.

Health Minister Adrian Dix has said he’s reviewing the hospital parking issue.

Workers, meanwhile, are not pleased at getting the bulk of the tickets.

“It’s quite concerning to hear so many staff at Island Health are getting these kind of tickets,” said Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union.

There’s a B.C.-wide nursing shortage, and nurses are forced to work long hours with frequent overtime and can’t just suddenly leave a patient who might be in crisis to top up a parking meter, she said.

There’s a chronic shortage of parking at facilities, and staff often don’t feel comfortable parking blocks away and returning to their vehicles in isolated areas at night, said Mike Old, spokesman for the Hospital Employees’ Union.

— Rob Shaw, Vancouver Sun

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