The annual audited financials for BC’s five geographic-based health authorities reported an overall annual decrease of 4.5% in revenue from pay parking operations for the 2020 fiscal year. The implementation of temporary free parking at BC hospitals as a result of the Covid19 response, an obvious influence on pay parking income, started on April 1, 2020. It is important to clarify the 2020 fiscal year ran from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 – meaning free parking had no effect on the 2020 revenue figures. The unexpected drop in income forced from the sick and vulnerable was actually a full 10%, or nearly $2M lower than the projected revenue based on the historic annual rise in pay parking revenues.
How can this drop be explained? Hopefully it means British Columbians have made changes to their lifestyles during the past few years and have less need for the healthcare services commonly found at our hospitals. Or perhaps the first few weeks of the Covid19 pandemic dramatically dropped hospital attendance numbers across BC pulling down parking revenues by a couple million dollars? Our organization would assert British Columbians are wising up to the realities of how hospital pay parking is dishonestly justified, unenforceable and widely unsupported by taxpayers and are just not plugging the meter.
The BC General election later this month will be another opportunity for the major political parties to take a position on the privatisation of profits made at public hospital parking lots. In past election contests the candidates have rarely discussed the issue. Easy money is hard to turn down.
HospitalPayParking.ca reached out to all three major parties to learn their position on maintaining the obligatory payment system that trades dollars for access to healthcare. The BC Liberals and BC Green Party have not responded. There is also no evidence their election platforms include a plan to reform hospital parking. Voters should assume the hospital pay parking scam would continue under their governance.
Health Minister Adrian Dix continues to be hooked on the income from pay parking, showing little interest in reform that is in everyone’s best interest. The excerpt below from Health Estimates 2020 confirms the NDP candidate thinks it’s high time our public healthcare system uses a system of discriminating favouritism to financially burden some patients with specific health conditions he considers unworthy of free parking, while others will be able to access the same parking facilities for free. Such a plan is totally incompatible with the overall tenets of the Canada Health Act that fundamentally permits all Canadians equal access to publicly funded hospitals. Also evident in the interview is the suggestion little will change to eliminate the cash outlay and punitive enforcement apparatus as the minister claims he has no interest in discussing alternative ways of managing parking services with others outside of government. Saying he has heard enough about parking from others and then impose a discriminatory patient classification system to determine who pays for parking shows the dictatorial nature of Adrian Dix. For the record, the HospitalPayParking.ca campaign is now 2 years old and still active. Not a single letter, email, voice mail or personal request via a colleague of the minster has resulted in any direct communication.
N. Letnick: We’ll now transition over to one of the minister’s favourite topics, hospital pay parking. The report, I believe, says $40 million in revenue was collected across the province in 2019. We have a few questions on this. In April, the minister suspended paid parking in all health authority owned and operated facilities in B.C. What is the loss in revenue assumed by this action?
Hon. A. Dix: As the member says, that on April 1, 2020, in response to the circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic, I made the decision — as recommended by our health authorities — to suspend paid parking as of that day. The specific circumstances, I should say, were real. The obvious and extraordinary anxiety and pressure facing health care workers in the sector, the fact that our hospitals overall were running under-capacity, so there was somewhat less demand, and somewhat less activity in communities.
Since that time, we’ve been offering free parking since April 1, 2020. I would estimate the loss in revenue, the net loss in revenue, to be $10 million. This is a part of our response to COVID-19, and it’s my expectation that health authorities would be reimbursed for that amount. In other words, that that money would not be found in patient care, but it is seen as an incremental cost for this period of the COVID-19 pandemic response.
N. Letnick: Thank you to the minister. Answer two questions in one, appreciate that anytime. So, any date set aside as to when paid parking might come back into play and when it does, in what form?
Hon. A. Dix: So I would say hospitals around B.C…. There are specific circumstances around the decision to suspend paid parking on April 1. I think, ultimately, those were the right decisions. It should be said, though, at present, there are many hospitals — and I have a fairly long list of requests to address this — where there’s significant accessibility issues as a result of free parking now.
Those hospitals include, and I’ll list…. It’s just a partial list. I won’t start for any reason with Kelowna General Hospital, which always has parking issues as the member knows. There’s significant ongoing issues in terms of parking which are exacerbated, in part, by these circumstances. Royal Columbian has significant issues; Vancouver General; St. Paul’s, very much so, as you would understand, Chair. Lion’s Gate, Children and Women’s Hospital, Gorge Road, Vic General, Nanaimo Regional Hospital, Royal Inland Hospital and Royal Jubilee Hospital.
What are the issues? They include lots that are full at 6 a.m. Citizens using free parking in areas where parking is paid everywhere else to use nearby transit and SkyTrain. This is a situation, for example, that is present at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, which is right on the SkyTrain line. Missed appointments due to lack of parking, parking in loading zones with no parking signs, etc.
So the situation that has been put in place because of free parking, as we return to closer to 100 percent capacity in our hospital system…. We returned to doing this. We just announced 6,500 to 6,600 surgeries a week in our health care system above seasonable normals, in fact, for them is challenging. So we are reviewing that now and reviewing when the appropriate time would be to reinstate paid parking.
In the meantime, I’m looking at making a number of changes. We’re in the midst and will continue to be in the midst of a review of paid parking policies. As you know, this is an issue that all MLAs get contacted about all the time. There’s a real frustration that people have with the way that paid parking is enforced at some hospitals, the lack of infrastructure and lack of flexibility at some hospitals.
As we prepare for this step of returning to paid parking, we’re going to inevitably make changes. One in terms of ensuring free parking to certain classes of patients. For example, those with chronic diseases, renal patients and others. We’re looking at those kinds of changes, to look at classes of patients. We need to make some infrastructure improvements, because some of the changes that one might make in terms of, say, hours free or others, at present couldn’t be made, because most hospital parking lots don’t have the infrastructure in place. But I’d like to see those things in place before we consider a resumption of paid parking, which will happen. Then we can continue to review the broader issues as we lead into the next budget period.
N. Letnick: To the minister, when the minister has come up with his approach to the reopening of paid parking or reimplementation of paid parking, will the minister be seeking public input on that approach, or will the minister be making an announcement about the decision made?
Hon. A. Dix: I think it’s fair to say to the member that we have received significant public input. I should say, in present times, much of the public input we received in the last month has been complaints about some of the outcomes and the consequences of free parking, which I think was the right decision. We’ve been receiving that. We received a lot in a major campaign, and there has been a significant campaign around free parking in B.C., so we’ve heard from that.
We’re going to continue to be reviewing parking, but I’d like to see this as kind of a moment to be able to return to paid parking. I’d like to see at least some interim changes as we continue to consult with British Columbians about issues around paid parking and around the access to our hospital facilities. I think the idea is to take some interim steps and continue to review the question leading into Budget 2021.