COLUMN: Paying for parking not just about money

Surrey is giving up a lot of parking revenue to fulfill an election promise, writes Frank Bucholtz

Surrey is giving up much of its parking revenue to fulfill an election promise.

While council was dealing Monday night with a report on making more parking spaces free, action had already been taken for limited free parking at city hall. Parkade signs offer two-hour free parking for visitors during the work day, though plate numbers must be registered as they enter city hall.

READ MORE: Surrey council approves free two-hour parking at city hall, around hospital

This is long overdue.

It’s always been strange to pay for parking at the new City Centre city hall, after no charges at the old city hall on Highway 10. Most trips by citizens to city hall entail paying a lot more money for taxes or permits, and having free parking for customers makes sense.

However, according to the signs, those who attend evening and weekend events at city hall, such as council meetings or performances, will still have to pay.

(UPDATE: The city had previously eliminated pay perking for council-meeting attendees.)

The other place where big changes have already been made is on the streets surrounding Surrey Memorial Hospital.

Newly elected Coun. Mandeep Nagra says two-hour free parking has already been implemented, and council is asking Fraser Health (FHA) to allow for free parking in its hospital lots.

There are now 103 free parking places on the streets around SMH.

By contrast, there are 2,041 off-street sites on or near the hospital grounds, with varying rates. At SMH itself, it costs $4.25 for the first hour of parking and $3.50 per additional hour.

Pay parking at hospitals has long been a bone of contention. Visitors contend they have more pressing things to do than pay for parking. If a visit turns out to be a long one, as can be the case when taking someone to emergency, the parking costs add up.

FHA has consistently said it needs to charge for parking, to help its budget. Few would deny that the health system can use all money available to it.

While council can ask FHA to remove parking charges, it is highly unlikely it will do so, based on past requests in other communities.

The only area hospital where parking is free is Delta Hospital, and that’s not due to lack of effort by FHA. Delta Hospital Auxiliary paid years ago to pave the parking lot on condition that parking would always be free, and it has challenged FHA’s attempts to bring in pay parking.

Surrey is giving up substantial revenue by reducing paid parking at city hall and ending it on the streets around SMH. A corporate report said revenues from on-street meters are about $880,000 annually, and it is estimated about $850,000 in revenue will be lost.

This is a step towards making life more affordable, similar to the removal of tolls from the Port Mann Bridge.

The city needs to take a comprehensive look at its pay-parking program – it is a form of traffic and vehicle management, as much as it is a source of revenue.

One place where the city does charge for parking is on streets around the Scott Road SkyTrain station, where it is all but impossible to find a parking slot during the Monday to Friday work week, if you arrive too late. Perhaps Surrey could look at opening a large lot in that area, near the new ice arena under construction, so that more people are able to park there and use SkyTrain.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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