All day, vehicles are circling. As one car pulls out, another takes its place in a matter of minutes if not seconds.
This has been the scene on a stretch of 138 Street in Surrey for the past couple of weeks. Word has gotten out: free parking near Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Ed Scott parallel parks his van with ease. He exits his vehicle with a big smile on his face, not because of the parking job but because of the price he didn’t have to pay.
“My wife was in here for 75 days,” said Scott, who is visiting a friend in hospital. “I spent a thousand dollars on parking.”
It’s hard to find anyone who likes having to pay for parking when going to the hospital. Many see it as a cash grab targeting those who are often going through a hard time in their lives.
“It’s not a rec centre where it’s for leisure,” Suki Bhullar, another hospital visitor, said. “This is for…health reasons, life or death.”
Surrey City Council directed staff to make street parking around Surrey Memorial Hospital free for the first two hours. The same has been done for the underground parking beneath City Hall.
While the free parking has already been in effect, official changes to the bylaw were put forward to city council Monday.
Council voted in agreement and they now want Fraser Health and private companies to follow suit.
“The community doesn’t want to be sort of two-bitted to death every time they come to the City Hall or go visit their loved ones in hospital,” Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said.
The break on parking was one of the election promises McCallum made during the campaign. He said it was important to deliver on it as quickly as possible.
The move will mean an $850,000 loss in parking revenue.
There are more than 2,000 parking spots on and around the hospital campus, which is not in the city’s control. Currently, people are being charged upwards of $4.25 for the first hour.
Fraser Health did not put anyone up for an interview with Global News but said it does offer special parking waivers in limited circumstances.
“…We have a hardship process to waive fees where it poses a genuine challenge to patients and families,” Fraser Health wrote in a statement.
“Money generated from parking fees covers operating costs to provide safe parking, such as lighting, security patrols, and repaving. Any additional funds are reinvested into health care programs and services.”
McCallum says he hopes that Fraser Health will reconsider and acknowledge that people consider this to be an important issue.
“They’re under a lot tension when they go the hospital,” McCallum said. “The last thing they need to do is try to find some money or a credit card to pay parking.”
Some hospital visitors said the two hours of free parking makes the most sense for patients seeking treatment. They claim many are forced to pay for more than an hour of parking because hospital delays often put them at risk of getting a ticket.
Scott was able to visit his sick friend within the two-hour time limit. While he doesn’t expect Fraser Health to follow the city’s lead by making parking free, he thinks more can be done.
“Even if they just reduce the amount you have to pay,” he said. “It gets very expensive.”