Free hospital parking coming to an end

Exterior of the new Foothills Hospital parkade is shown on Tuesday, July 2, 2019.

Five months of free parking at Alberta hospitals is running out of road.

That’s not sitting well with some Calgarians and a union representing health care workers who say charging those fees is gouging the public at a sensitive time.

Parking fees at Alberta Health Service sites that were waived since April 3 will return for staff Aug. 31, and for the public Sept. 1.

The measure was meant to be temporary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, aiming to reduce the spread of infection through touching screens and buttons at payment sites.

Removing the need for parking passes would also make it easier for those who work at various AHS sites during the outbreak, say provincial health-care officials.

But in April, the AHS said waiving parking fees could relinquish about $7.6 million per month in revenues, or $38 million over five months.

“Parking fees help AHS control the flow of traffic and ensure appropriate parking spaces are available for staff and visitors, keeping our facilities accessible as traffic again increases,” said an AHS statement released Thursday.

The move is a slap in the face to health care workers, more than 1,000 of whom have contracted COVID-19, said Karen Weiers, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

“The risks those workers are facing is not going away…this is an insult to those workers,” said Weiers, whose union counts 58,000 health care workers in its ranks.

If the province is concerned about revenue lost to a suspension of those fees, “maybe the government should cut back on its corporate tax giveaways,” she added.

Some members of the public are also vehemently opposed to the fees, saying they’re an extra burden at difficult times for families experiencing illnesses or injuries.

“The last thing people need to worry about is finding the extra dollars to pay for parking when a loved one is in the hospital,” said Calgarian Jenn Jenkinson.

“This is especially difficult now in light of the fact that there are still very many people either still unemployed or underemployed in our province.”

She recalled a hefty parking tab at the Rockyview Hospital after her daughter suffered a leg injury last fall when she was between jobs and cash poor.

But the AHS says making motorists pay ensures medical resources aren’t diverted to funding the construction of new parkades, and maintenance and repairs on existing ones.

“We recognize that paying for parking can be an extra financial burden on our staff, visitors and guests, and to compensate for that we try to keep parking rates below fair market value,” the AHS states on its website.

“As well, AHS provides compassionate parking passes to people facing financial hardship on a case-by-case basis.”

And they say those fees won’t be increased to make up for revenues lost during the grace period.

“Parking rates charged for public lots will not change as part of this reinstatement. Public parking fees will be as they were prior to the pause,” says the AHS.

“Coins and cash will still be accepted at AHS parking meters and parking offices.”

Payment kiosks will be regularly cleaned as part of the COVID-19 protocols, they said.

Some other provinces, including B.C., also provided free public health-care parking beginning in the early days of the pandemic.

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