Hospital parking fees under review by health minister

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the elimination of hospital parking fees is a complicated issue that he is reviewing with Premier John Horgan. But he’s not promising any action.

“There’s very few issues that people feel more strongly about in the health-care system than the paid-parking question,” Dix said at a news conference in Victoria on Monday.

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Hospital parking fees bring in about $40 million in gross revenue each year across the province, up from $15 million in 2003, Dix said.

During the NDP’s weekend convention in Victoria, delegates called on the province to eliminate parking fees for patients and families. They asked that this be done in an evidence-based way to prevent abuse by those who are not patients or family members, such as people working or visiting other locations near hospitals.

A resolution passed by delegates called hospital parking fees “a hardship during some of the most stressful moments in a family’s life.” It said they “give private companies the chance to profit from parking violations incurred by sick or grieving people using a publicly run service.”

Pay parking at hospitals is not consistent on Vancouver Island. People visiting patients at Victoria General, Royal Jubilee and Saanich Peninsula hospitals pay parking fees. At the Campbell River and Comox Valley North Island hospitals, parking is free.

“It’s a challenging and it’s a complicated issue that the premier has directed me to look at,” Dix said. “And so we’re doing that right now — and so the resolution at the party convention will inform that process as well.”

At Royal Jubilee, parking fees vary from $1 for the first 30 minutes and $1.50 each hour after that at the main emergency entrance, to parkade fees of $2.25 for the first hour and $1.25 for each additional hour to a maximum daily rate of $16.

Island Health collected $7.7 million from parking fees in 2015-16. That more than covered the $3 million it cost to maintain the lots — including $1 million paid to Robbins Parking, the contractor hired to police them.

Much of the revenue from parking fees goes to hospital foundations and to support health-care services. In cases where there is a need or people are in hospital for a long time, health authorities frequently waive the parking fees, Dix said.

Almost all of the parking management in B.C. hospitals is contracted out. It’s challenging in some communities to offer and police low-cost parking, he said.

“It’s a significant concern people have. I hear about it all the time,” Dix said.

Health authorities are involved in his review, Dix said. The cost of all options will be considered.

Some health authorities encourage staff to take transit to work and some have set up shuttle bus services, he said.

“It’s a significant review we’re taking. I’ve been taking the issue very seriously.”

HospitalPayParking.ca, an online site aimed at ending “the obligatory pay parking trap and [advocating a] transition to something better that works for everyone” applauded the unanimous passing of the NDP convention resolution.

“Perhaps our droning on about hospital pay parking in B.C. needing reform has finally sunk in.”

Opposition health critic Norm Letnick said he raised the issue of pay parking in May and Dix said he was reviewing it then. “The review is taking a long time,” Letnick said.

The province has a responsibility “to answer the question on what it wants to do on the pay parking issue,” he said, adding that he would be happy to work across party lines on a solution.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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