Impark manages Ridge Meadows Hospital parking lot. (THE NEWS/files)

Hospital pay parking has a new opponent

Maple Ridge’s longtime lobbyist angry over new Impark deal

Impark has signed a new $14.5-million contract to run pay parking at Lower Mainland hospitals, in addition to keeping all of the parking fine revenue.

Jon Buss, an inventor and businessman, has founded a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating paid hospital parking in the province, and is the latest loud voice in what has been a long fight.

He started hospitalpayparking.ca and wrote last week about the new five-year contract between the Provincial Health Services Authority and parking lot operator Impark.

It started on Jan. 1. The company will manage parking lots at 40 hospitals – including Maple Ridge – collecting $14.5 million in fees for iteself, as well as violation revenue, which is $80 per ticket.

The health authorities, including Fraser Health, will receive a share of the parking revenue from the rate of $3.50 per hour.

Pay parking revenues in Fraser Health hospitals totaled $14.9 million of its $3.5-billion budget.

Buss said he has reviewed many complaints about the hospital parking issue across the country, but nothing is changing.

“Nothing has been done, and the rates are growing at four times the rate of inflation,” he said. “We need to get the people who can make reform happen at the table.”

Buss wants to connect cities in the Lower Mainland with local MLAs and find ways to replace the revenue being earned by hospital parking for health authorities. That would allow them to make parking free. He advocates having cities manage hospital parking.

Russ Curnew has been lobbying for free parking at Ridge Meadows Hospital since December 2012, when his former band, the RX Rockers, all were hit with $60 parking tickets while playing a free concert for the residents of the Baillie House residential care facility at the site.

“I was very disappointed when the government gave Impark a new five-year contract,” said Curnew, who continues to push the issue. “I’m still saying this is not right, and we need to get something done.”

He has lobbied the City of Maple Ridge to change its bylaws, has written premier John Horgan, and most recently tried to get commitments from local politicians before the last election to take up this fight. He said many were willing before they got elected.

“I told them, ‘I’m going to hold you to it.’”

He believes Buss is on the right track bringing cities into the issue, and plans to get in touch with Buss as a potential new ally.

The common narrative Buss has heard is that a family member becomes seriously ill and requires a long hospital stay, and their loved ones face a constant hassle of running out to feed metres, not making it on time and paying for tickets, and generally are inconvenienced and taxed at the worst possible time.

For many, the parking fees are lumped into bad memories of the illness of a loved one.

“People bury this parking experience with the bad memories of the medical experience,” he said.

He has spoken to Fraser Health and other such authorities, who say they cannot cut their funding without the approval of the Health Ministry. The provincial government says hospital parking is under the purview of the health authorities.

“So we have a stalemate by convenience.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix offered a statement about hospital parking in the province:

“We know that pay parking revenue has increased dramatically over the past 15 years under the previous government, by $25 million, 130 percent more compared to pay parking revenue in 2005/06.

“And I hear the concern about pay parking at hospitals everywhere I go in B.C. – whether it’s Surrey or Campbell River or Prince George. I have also met with different individuals and groups regarding it. Reducing this burden that has grown over the past number of years is one of the issues I am looking at as minister,” said Dix.

“One action that we have taken is that pay parking is not being expanded to new sites. Currently we are systematically reviewing issues around parking across the system.

He added that if people need relief now from these costs, most hospitals have a hardship process to waive or subsidize fees where it poses a genuine challenge to patients and families, and most sites have a variety of pay options to accommodate different types of patient visits, including daily, weekly and extended stay rates.

Buss said the take from hospital parking province-wide is $34 million, and is a relatively small amount of the provincial budget to replace.

Impark keeps 100 per cent of the violation ticket revenue, which Buss says is a powerful motivator to write as many tickets as possible.

“I would be all over it – I’m a business guy,” he said. “People like me should not be invited to operate at hospitals.”

He thinks B.C. health authorities have become addicted to the revenue hospital pay parking generates.

“This is a problem many British Columbians are learning about the hard way at a time when they are at their lowest, weakest and often sickest,” he said in a release.

“The two health authorities party to this agreement collected nearly $20M in net parking revenue last year and it’s an income source they regard as safe and secure. Meanwhile, parking costs for patients have risen province-wide by an average of nine per cent annually since 2015. The potential revenue from violation notices is currently unknown, but likely amounts to a significant pile of cash.”

Buss said he has asked for those figures – Impark’s violation receipts, through freedom of information.

Buss’ group can be reached through HospitalPayParking.ca.

– with files from Ashley Wadhwani

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