Council urged to continue on with parking fee ban

Campbell Riverites urge city council to follow through on banning pay parking at the new Campbell River Hospital

“We’re behind you all the way.”

That was the message from Dave Owen who, along with eight other Campbell River citizens, urged city council to follow through on banning pay parking at the new Campbell River Hospital.

Owen shared his own experience of struggling with cancer and having the stress of worrying about whether or not he would face hefty parking fines or worse, have his car towed, if he didn’t make it back to the parking meter in time.

“Nothing was worse than getting a (chemotherapy) drip and you don’t know if that parking meter is going to run out or not, it depends on the person and the drip,” Owen said during a public hearing Monday night on a proposed bylaw that, if passed by council, will prohibit parking fees at the hospital. “You’re sitting there and you put in three hours, you’re on your fourth hour and you’re wondering, ‘Should I get out of here? Because I’m not going to have a vehicle to go home in if that’s the case’ and that’s a lot of tension for a lot of people.”

Joanne Banks shared a similar story of trying to cope with expensive parking fees on top of medical costs when a family member falls ill. She told council that her son, who had a high paying job with a Fortune 500 company, was forced to quit when his kidneys failed. Banks travelled back and forth from Campbell River to Vancouver to see her son, accruing costs for the ferry, food and gas. The situation was made worse by the daily parking fees at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).

“There is hourly, daily and monthly parking at VGH and all the surrounding streets are metered. The daily rate was $18 and the hourly rate was $6. In the first month, my parking costs were $464: $200 during the hospital stay and another $246 for my son’s many more follow-up treatments,” Banks said. “I was on a fixed income and when you put out dollars for hospital pay parking, another part of your already stretched budget suffers; perhaps you cut back on food, medications or risk not paying a Hydro bill.

“This is a common story and it doesn’t have to happen here,” Banks told council. “I strongly urge you to vote for this bylaw to ban pay parking at our hospital and other public spaces.”

Council is currently in the midst of considering a bylaw amendment to prohibit charging for parking on all 191 sites within the city limits that are zoned Public Areas One which includes all schools, churches, the Sportsplex, museum, Robron Park, RCMP station, Strathcona Gardens, the majority of city parks and other health, social and educational uses. Council previously passed first and second reading of the bylaw and on Monday held the required public hearing to gather input from the public. All eight people who spoke at the hearing were in favour of the bylaw, as were another 17 who submitted correspondence to the city.

The bylaw is up for third reading, and potentially adoption, at the Feb. 20 council meeting and those who spoke out on Monday urged council to move forward with the ban.

Speakers included North Island MLA Claire Trevena who wanted to thank council on behalf of all North Islanders for bringing the proposed bylaw forward.

“People are already facing the cost of ferries if they’re coming from the islands, the cost of gas, the cost of accommodations, the cost of food,” Trevena said. “I’ve had a number of constituents come to me who are extremely emotional about this – people who have seen the impacts of pay parking.”

Trevena recounted one man’s story of going to the hospital to visit his wife.

“He said he couldn’t feed the meter all the time and he knew he’d get a ticket, he knew he’d get his car towed but with respect to his wife, he knew it had to be,” said Trevena, who added that charging for parking at the hospital also impacts the Canadian principle of access for all to universal health care.

Lois Jarvis, co-founder of the Campbell River Citizens for Quality Healthcare group, said that a cancer patient in Winnipeg recently started a petition to ban hospital pay parking for that very reason, that parking fees fly in the face of free health care.

“Why should a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy or any other patient with a serious illness have to worry about a parking meter?” Jarvis said. She said hospital staff, which would not be immune to pay parking, shouldn’t have to worry about parking fees either.

“We very much value all our fine hospital staff,” Jarvis said. “They deal with whatever humanity tosses at them every day and they do it with professionalism and empathy. They have tough jobs. We cannot demean them by making them pay for parking to go to work. We respectfully urge our council to pass third reading of this proposed bylaw to prohibit any pay parking at our hospital.”

Campbell River council has been debating the issue of pay parking since early last year when Coun. Larry Samson suggested Campbell River follow Delta’s lead in banning pay parking at its hospital through a zoning bylaw. Island Health announced in 2015 that it intends to charge for parking at new hospitals in the Comox Valley and Campbell River when they open later this year.

The health authority has said that parking fee revenues will go towards parking lot management, maintenance and security. Island Health has said that volunteers, hospital auxiliary members, pastoral care providers, renal patients and family caregivers will be exempt from parking fees and that hardship provisions will be in place to waive or reduce fees where they pose a genuine financial challenge.