Just days after the province announced the suspension of paid parking at certain lots owned and operated by health authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, people who work in hospitals say drivers have been taking advantage of the free parking even if they are not visiting a hospital.
One Royal Columbian Hospital emergency room doctor was so frustrated she posted a public video to Facebook Thursday, pleading with people not to use the lots as park-and-rides or to visit other businesses near the hospital.
"I just arrived at work and could not even find a parking spot because of the loophole that many people are using to park for free in the hospital grounds," said Kelly Kasteel in the selfie video shot outside of RCH.
"Folks, please. This was meant for hospital patients who require access to the hospital. And this was also meant for nurses and physicians to have access without having to be bothered to touch a touch pad."
During normal operations, there is a gate in place at RCH separating the staff parking area from the public parking area, but in the first couple of days after parking became free, that gate was just left open.
"I already paid for my pass for the year. I can't even park there because someone has parked in my spot," said Kasteel in her video. "The nurses cannot park underground because someone has chosen their right to park and take the SkyTrain over that of a front-line worker."
The gate to the underground parkade at RCH is just metres from the entrance to Sapperton Station on SkyTrain's Millennium Line.
Friday morning, there was a security guard at the entrance to that parkade briefly stopping and talking to drivers before allowing them inside.
But at the surface parking lots surrounding the hospital, which are mostly designated for patients and visitors, parking is also free at this time and there does not appear to be anyone checking to make sure people using the spaces are actually going to the hospital.
Kasteel says that's a problem as well because many patients visiting the hospital for treatments like chemotherapy may not have the strength to walk very far.
At other Lower Mainland hospitals, including Vancouver General Hospital, the parking gates are wide open and the cashier booths are closed.
Speaking from Victoria, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province has heard the complaints.
"We are working hard and will be enforcing...even though parking may be free it is our intention to make sure that everyone who parks does so with legitimate reasons," said Dix.
He did not provide specifics on what that enforcement could look like or when it might begin.
"Be kind to your frontline workers. We hear you cheering. We hear you banging pots," said Kasteel, referencing the nightly 7 p.m. cheer for health-care workers. "Show up for us. We'll show up for you but we need to be able to park first."