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

Although council gave its blessing to offer the free parking Monday (Nov. 19), it was already made free last week
The City of Surrey removed pay parking on its streets around the hospital, and to some extent at city hall, ahead of a Surrey council vote to approve the move. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

While free two-hour parking at city hall and on streets around Surrey Memorial Hospital was already in effect last week, Surrey’s new city council voted to officially approve the decision on Monday (Nov. 19).

The free parking was a promise of Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition during their campaign ahead of the Oct. 20 election.

That promise has been kept, at least in part: The party didn’t mention a two-hour restriction before being elected.

“We have to put the two-hour restriction on in city hall because it’s right beside SkyTrain,” McCallum said, when asked why the limit was implemented. “If we didn’t put just two hours on it then people would park there all day and take the SkyTrain downtown. We want the parking for people that go into the city hall. We feel the people in city hall can get their business done within two hours.”

What if people have business that takes longer than two hours at city hall?

“I think then (they) would have to come down and move (their) car into another spot somewhere else and do two hours again in that spot,” McCallum replied.

A sign at city hall reads “Complimentary Parking For City Hall Visitors” with a two-hour maximum Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with vehicle registration required in the atrium. Visitors parking outside those hours must pay an evening flat rate of $3 all days and a $4 flat rate on Saturday and Sunday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Prior to being elected, McCallum told the Now-Leader he believes city hall is “sort of the people’s house.”

“It’s not council’s, it’s not the mayor’s,” he said at the time. “It’s the people’s house and why would you ever want to have pay parking if you’re going to your own house sort-of-thing. If you’re going to city hall to get permits or to pay your taxes, you shouldn’t have to do it and so we’re going to offer free parking at city hall.”

As for the hospital, McCallum said “you should be able to visit your family and friends in the hospital within that two-hour period.”

The mayor noted that the hospital is along a major bus route, “and if we didn’t put the two hours on it, then they would park here all day and people wouldn’t be able to use that spot. We felt it was fair to do a two-hour free parking

The number of parking spaces that until recently you had to pay for on city streets near SMH is a drop in the bucket compared to the number pay parking spots controlled by Fraser Health.

The city operates 103 on-street pay parking spots in the immediate vicinity of SMH while Fraser Health or private companies operate 2,041 off-street parking spaces.

It costs $4.25 for the first hour of parking at one of SMH’s 1,790 stalls and $3.50 per additional hour. If you’re parking in one of the Surrey Medical Arts Building lot’s 87 stalls, you’ll pay $3 for the first hour and $2.50 for each additional hour. Parking in one of Surrey Health Sciences lot’s 185 stalls will cost you $2.50 per hour, and SMH has 43 Creekside lot stall that cost $3.75 for the first hour and $3.25 for each additional hours.

A 10-page corporate report, penned by Fraser Smith, the city’s general manager of engineering, indicates that council’s commitment to free parking will reduce annual pay parking revenues at the city hall parkade by about $490,000 annually, and annual pay parking revenue from on-street parking around SMH will be reduced by an estimated $360,000.

Together, that’s $850,000.

“Metered on-street parking generates approximately $880,000 in annual revenue for the City of Surrey,” Smith noted.

City wide, Surrey has 947 metered street parking spaces, mostly in City Centre, around SMH and the four SkyTrain stations and these generate revenue to support parking management and “other transportation programs in the city,” Smith reports.

The corporate report suggests that the two-hour time limit on parking “will discourage workers and other non-visitors from parking in these spaces, thereby maximizing the chances of visitors finding an available parking space.”

Smith notes that the three-level city hall parkade, with 827 parking spaces, was constructed under the Build Surrey Program, and was intended to provide parking not only for city hall but the City Centre Library, and 3 Civic Plaza which includes the Civic Hotel and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“The parking utility expenditures include debt repayment for the city hall parkade, parking management, parking enforcement, and capital, maintenance and replacement costs for all parking infrastructure,” Smith reports. “Introducing free parking at any existing pay parking locations will reduce the funding available for these expenses.”

After council unanimously voted in favour of the free parking, McCallum reiterated his commitment to freeze taxes.

“We’ve been very clear with taxes in Surrey, we won’t increase them anymore than the Consumer Price Index, so that’s set in stone for future years,” he told reporters.

“The most taxes will go up, and that’s the maximum, it may go up less, but that’s the Consumer Price Index,” McCallum added. “We’re working on the budgets for next year currently, in the next month. That revenue, we will have to re-adjust our budgets in the city to cover that.”

Meantime, a cost remains for any parking on hospital property, of course.

But Surrey Councillor Mandeep Nagra says the city will be asking Fraser Health to remove pay parking at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

“We will be talking to Fraser Health to remove the parking metres inside the hospital, as well as those underground parking,” Nagra said.

“We listen to people, you know,” Nagra added. “This is what they want and this is what we should be doing for them, right, we’re just messengers for them, what they want, and we’ll get it done.”

After the Nov. 19 council meeting, McCallum was asked by reporters how he would convince Fraser Health to follow in the city’s footsteps and offer free, two-hour parking.

“We’re going to try to convince them,” the mayor replied. “The parkade is the regional health board’s land and we will talk to them and try to convince them to provide free parking also. But ultimately that’s up to them to decide whether they will or not.”

The idea was praised by Delta resident Jon Buss, a retired businessman who just last week launched the website

Buss aims to have hospital pay parking abolished in B.C., arguing it is discriminatory as it’s a financial barrier to health care, and that it causes unnecessary stress.

“It’s not right,” Buss said. “It’s a place where people are at their lowest, their weakest, their most stressed…. We can’t be making money-makers out of them.”

Fraser Health’s annual parking revenues grew from roughly $12.6 million in 2015 to $14.9 million in 2018 (with that fiscal year ending March, 2018).

On his website, Buss notes the internet is “littered with wreckage of failed petitions, abandoned Facebook groups,” about the issue, none of which have made a difference.

“My website is the culmination of all my research, and a call to action. It’s such an easy problem to tip,” he said, urging people to check out his website, where he’s outlined how residents can join him, and take action.

Buss advises people to contact their local MLA, write a letter outlining your position on hospital pay parking and demand action. Buss has even produced a sample letter.

“If we start getting into big numbers and email these people, they’ll take notice. It’s up to the larger population to do it. This is how we’re going to get this done,” Buss stated.

Buss said free hospital parking is certainly not unprecedented, noting Delta, Mission and Campbell River are the B.C. examples, and he pointed to Scotland and Wales, which scrapped hospital pay parking in 2008.