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Hospital parking fees return in March after two-year suspension

"Non-hospital users" blamed for taking advantage of pandemic initiative, introduced in the spring of 2020
The parking lot at Royal Jubilee Hospital along Fort Street. The province says about $78 million in parking fees have been waived since April 1, 2020. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

After a two-year suspension, the province is bringing back hospital pay parking starting March 4, blaming non-hospital users for taking advantage of the pandemic initiative, introduced in the spring of 2020.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the courtesy was effective and appreciated but cited “non-hospital users” for taking ­advantage of the freebie “while conducting business that’s not hospital related.”

“These hospital parking spots must be available for those who need them most,” Dix said Thursday.

“The challenge over time as we’ve come back to full utilization is that people can’t find a parking space often at many of our ­hospitals,” said Dix.

Parking fees were suspended April 1, 2020, on the heels of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic, to reduce risk of possible transmission from touching screens and buttons at payment kiosks and to avoid crowding in kiosk lines. The Provincial Health Services Authority at the same time temporarily suspended payroll deductions for parking fees.

The B.C. government said just over $78 million in parking fees have been waived since April 1, 2020. The parking rates, frozen for four years, will go unchanged.

Parking fees are being re-introduced to ensure parking spots are available for patients, staff, and volunteers, said Dix, noting he received “hundreds” of complaints from people who were not being able to find a spot.

Free parking at provincial health-care facilities will continue for patients receiving dialysis treatment or undergoing cancer treatment in acute-care programs, and for parents or caregivers of children staying in hospital overnight.

Volunteers will still be able to park for free, and financial hardship provisions will continue to be managed on a case-by-case basis by health authorities, the Health Ministry said.

Methods that were in place in 2020 to allow free parking such as dash passes, e-coupons or reimbursement will also continue.

In cases where there is a need or people are in hospital for a long time, health authorities can waive parking fees.

The minister said health authorities are modernizing the payment system with touch-free options and apps to make the process safer and more convenient. “A lot of people had trouble paying for their parking, which was a source of frustration,” he said.

For people without a smartphone or who choose not to use an app, additional payment terminals are being installed in common areas of some acute-care hospitals and other locations so parking can be managed without returning to a vehicle.

Meena Brisard, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, said Thursday it’s been a stressful 22 months for hospital workers, patients and their families as they’ve navigated the pandemic and it’s been “a relief not to have to worry about the cost of parking” especially when many workers are avoiding public transit. “Reinstating fees will be very disappointing for workers and visitors given the rising cost of living.”

Not all hospitals on Vancouver Island have had pay parking. People visiting patients at Victoria General, Royal Jubilee and Saanich Peninsula hospitals have had to pay, while it was free at Campbell River and Comox Valley North Island hospitals. Island Health confirmed Thursday that will remain the case.

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