Maple Ridge council is going to take on the issue of pay parking at Ridge Meadows Hospital.
Coun. Corisa Bell brought it up before her council colleagues at Monday morning’s workshop meeting, and unlike the last council, found they were supportive.
Mayor Nicole Read and Bell will now seek a meeting with Fraser Health officials.
Councillors said they acknowledge that Fraser Health needs to collect money for parking at the hospital, but would like to address residents’ concerns about overzealous parking enforcement. They suggested a pay-when-you-leave system, so patients and visitors don’t have to feel stressed about being ticketed when their time runs out.
Bell said during the last council term, residents brought the issue to city hall, but it received little support from her fellow politicians or former CAO Jim Rule.
With changes at the table, she wanted to try again.
“I didn’t feel like the proper attention was put toward the conversation last term,” said Bell. “Because we have a different council, with a different mentality, and I thought it would be great to see if there was an appetite to have this discussion this term.”
Three Christmas seasons ago, Russ Curnew and his band, the Rx Rockers, received unwarranted $60 parking tickets while performing Christmas carols at Baillie House. They had the tickets voided, but since Curnew has been campaigning for free hospital parking.
The issue has been the subject of a documentary by the CBC news program The Fifth Estate, and inspired a song by the Raging Grannies of Maple Ridge, but no changes have been made locally.
“Russ and the hundreds of people who signed a petition are still looking for proper representation from their local city council,” said Bell.
She quoted the CBC documentary, which found that 72 per cent of Canadians feel stressed about parking while they are at the hospital. She said the Impark employees who police the local lot are paid on commission, which gives them added incentive to ticket hospital visitors.
“It shouldn’t be an opportunity to make money on the sick. You don’t want to go to the hospital – you have to go to the hospital,” said Bell. “I don’t like to hear from seniors who want to go see a loved one in the hospital, but say they can’t afford to.”
She noted Delta, Mission and Salmon Arm hospitals all have free parking.
Read said council needs to be responsive to the public.
“Our residents have called for it, and we have a duty to really give it a good look,” said the mayor.
“We know from our legal opinion, which is public, that it’s very difficult to say we’re not charging parking fees at all,” she added. “But there’s a lot of opportunity in there for us to look at some business cases, and how we might be able to adjust things, to address some of our residents’ concerns.”
Curnew said council’s commitment to get involved is a positive step, and there is lots of room for compromise.
“Anything is better than what we’ve got,” said Curnew. “Right now it’s highway robbery.”
Parking rates at Ridge Meadows Hospital are $3.50 for the first hour, $3 for each additional hour, a day rate of $8.25, and evening/weekend rate of $5.25 and a one-month temporary permit of $35.25.
Fraser Health parking lots in Maple Ridge generate approximately $500,000 per year for the health authority, which pays for lot maintenance ($78,000 per year) and the balance goes into the general budget for health care.
Bell said she plans to bring a recommendation back to council early in the new year.