Russ Curnew with a copy of the ticket that started his campaign against paid parking at the Ridge Meadows Hospital about nine years ago. (Neil Corbett/The News)

Russ Curnew with a copy of the ticket that started his campaign against paid parking at the Ridge Meadows Hospital about nine years ago. (Neil Corbett/The News)

Maple Ridge man renews his fight against paid hospital parking

Province has announced free parking at hospitals to end in March

With pay parking about to return to Ridge Meadows Hospital, Maple Ridge’s Russ Curnew has resumed his long campaign against it.

Almost a decade ago, Curnew and his band, the Rx Rockers, were playing a gig to entertain seniors at Baillie House, the long-term care facility at the hospital. They were galled when they all came out to find they had been given $60 parking tickets from Impark.

Curnew successfully fought that ticket, and he’s been fighting against pay parking at the hospital ever since. He is philosophically opposed to the idea that people attending a health care facility be charged to park.

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Now 75 himself, nothing makes him see red like an elderly woman fishing through her change purse to try to find coins for the hospital parking meter, he said.

For the past two years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been free parking at hospitals in B.C., but last week, the province announced it would be reinstated, effective March 4.

The government rationale makes no sense on several levels, according to Curnew. For one thing, free parking was instituted with the start of the pandemic, but as he says “We’re still in the middle of it.”

A government press release said pay parking will be reinstated at B.C. health authority sites to ensure that parking spots are available for patients, staff, volunteers and visitors, and “so that free parking can continue to be extended to those who regularly receive certain treatments in acute-care settings.”

“Maintaining across-the-board free hospital parking is making it hard for patients, staff, volunteers and visitors to find a spot, as non-hospital users are taking advantage of the situation to park for free while conducting business that’s not hospital related,” said health minister Adrian Dix. “These hospital parking spots must be available for those who need them most.”

However, Curnew said there is no demand for the parking lot at Ridge Meadows Hospital, other than from those visiting the hospital.

“Ridge Meadows Hospital sits away from any other businesses,” he said.

In the past he has lobbied both local and provincial politicians in writing and in person, and already has launched a broadside of emails.

One went to Maple Ridge council, where he will at least get the support of Mayor Mike Morden.

“Mike, I would like yourself and council to get onboard and fight this. As you are aware, Maple Ridge Hospital is away from businesses and there is no need for people to use the lot except for Hospital appointments. Mr. (Premier John) Horgan when campaigning excluded Campbell River paid parking, and said he would do the same here. Although it hasn’t been done yet, it should and could still happen.”

Morden told The News his council has not yet discussed the issue, but he sympathizes with Curnew.

“From a personal perspective, paid parking is a frustration when you’ve got a medical problem, or you’re supporting someone who has a medical problem.”

Morden said a backlash from a public that has enjoyed free hospital parking for almost two years is predictable. He maintains that parking there should be free, or “very reasonable.” Otherwise, it’s like taxing people for being ill, he said.

Morden plans to raise the issue with his counterparts from across the region, through Metro’s mayors committee.

The mayor said he knows Curnew and his family personally, and he’s taken on a good cause.

“These are good community people, trying to do the right thing,” said Morden.

Past Maple Ridge city councils have looked into the issue, prompted by Curnew and others, but were told by their lawyers they have no authority over the issue.

The BC government has waived $78 million in parking fees waived since April 1, 2020. Fraser Health makes more than $10 million per year in hospital parking fees, and the Ridge Meadows Hospital more than $600,000 per year.

Free parking at health-care facilities will continue for patients receiving dialysis, undergoing cancer treatment in acute-care programs, and for caregivers of children staying in the hospital overnight. Volunteers will still be able to park for free, and financial hardship provisions will be managed on a case-by-case basis. Parking rates have been frozen for more than four years, and this freeze will continue.

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