Parking will no longer be free at hospitals and other B.C. health authority sites as of March 4, according to a statement from the B.C. Ministry of Health on Thursday.
Hospital parking fees were waived in April 2020 due to the pandemic, but the change led to people using parking for non-health-care reasons.
"Non-hospital users are taking advantage of the situation to park for free while conducting business that's not hospital-related," said Adrian Dix, minister of health.
Free parking will still be available for patients undergoing dialysis or cancer treatments in acute-care programs, and for parents or caregivers of children staying overnight.
Volunteers will still be able to park for free, and financial hardship provisions will continue to be handled on a case-by-case basis by health authorities, the province said in a statement.
"These hospital parking spots must be available for those who need them most," said Dix.
Since April 1, 2020, parking fees amounting to $78 million have been waived, according to the province.
Advocates 'disappointed' by the change
The return of parking fees is a disappointment, said Jon Buss, lead volunteer behind Hospital Pay Parking, a group that advocates for free parking at B.C. hospitals.
"Having to create some sort of stratification of the condition of why you're being treated at the hospital and as it pertains to your payment or non-payment of parking seems ridiculous."
Buss said free parking should be available to anyone attending a hospital. However, having an open free-for-all parking lot is not the solution.
He believes hospitals should consider alternative options such as scanning licence plates or giving passes to people as they register at the hospital.
"There would be some kind of linkage between your vehicle and your attendance as a patient or a supporter," he said.
'An added barrier to health care'
The concerns around people taking advantage of hospital parking are understandable, but fees can be an added barrier to health care, especially for people with disabilities, said Helaine Boyd, co-executive director of the Disabilities Alliance of British Columbia.
"They are still going to receive this financial hurdle, which just tacks on to the many other ways in which people with disabilities have a higher cost of living in general."
Fees can be a challenge for those who have to visit the hospital often and cannot find other methods of public transportation, she said.
"I can imagine that [people with disabilities] may feel like this is just another example of their needs not being considered in public policy."
Michael Sandler, CEO of the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners Association of British Columbia, said the return of parking fees for staff is frustrating, not just because of the added cost, but because of the added hassle.
"It's just one more thing you have to manage on your way … it can be a little bit frustrating, for sure."
However, Sandler says when people park their cars for non-health-care purposes, it becomes a challenge for staff and can compromise patient care.
He said the return of parking fees may mean staff consider getting to work in different ways, including mass transit, walking or biking.
When it comes to staff and patients paying parking fees, he said "there are some nuanced pieces here that need to be closely reviewed so that we decrease barriers on both sides."
Sandler and Boyd agree other options could be considered such as a validation or confirmation system to ensure parking is used for hospital purposes.
The province says pay-parking stations are being modernized to have touch-free payment options and apps to make the process safer and more convenient.