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The meter is running

The city parking authority rakes it in from HSC visitors

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YOUR wife's been in labour for 36 hours. Your elderly mother broke her hip and was rushed to emergency. Or you've spent the better part of the day at Health Sciences Centre getting tested for cancer.

Then, you emerge from the city's mega-hospital after one of the most stressful days of your life to find a yellow parking ticket tucked under your windshield wiper.

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That kind of insult added to injury must surely have happened to some of the 10,500 motorists who've been ticketed over the last couple of years at meters close to the Health Sciences Centre.

According to the Winnipeg Parking Authority's ticket database, six of the city's 10 most ticket-prone meters stand sentinel around the Health Sciences Centre -- and those meters have raked in millions in tickets and hourly parking fees over the last couple of years.

A quiet, tree-lined stretch of Furby Street south of William Avenue could be the most dangerous spot for motorists. Three meters on that street just a block east of the hospital complex are among the top 10.

They netted drivers 2,400 tickets since Jan. 2007.

"According to this, this receipt, I had until 4:20 p.m. but the guy came at 4:25 p.m. and gave me a ticket," said Winnipegger Vito Gajardo with good-humoured outrage as he held his yellow ticket. "How am I go­ing to argue against this? So here we are... Mr. Katz, thank you very much. I love you!"

Gajardo was visiting a very sick friend recently when he returned to his car to find the yellow ticket.

He knew he was late and hot-footed it back to his car, but he said he hadn't anticipated how much time he would want to spend at his friend's beside.

"I didn't go to the bar to have a beer and then have another one, right?" said Gajardo as he plugged the meter on Furby again earlier last week for another hospital visit. "I felt very bad because you go in there you don't (know) what's going to happen to the person in there."

 

 

 

Most tickets carry a $20 fine, if paid within 15 days. Making on-street parking cheap and easy around the city's busiest hospital is a perennial frustration for patients and visitors and, believe it or not, the city's parking authority.

The parkades at HSC are notoriously annoying.

They're expensive and often full, and whenever HSC looks to build another parkade to alleviate the short­age, nearby residents get irked.

That pushes many people out to the city meters in the West Alexander neighbourhood around the hospital.

A couple of years ago, the WPA noticed it was getting frequent complaints about tickets around HSC and checked the data to find that officers were writing many tickets to motorists parked for three or more hours in a two-hour spot. So, the authority piloted new rules at a handful of meters near the St.

Boniface General Hospital: drivers had to pay more, but could park for a longer period.

The project worked pretty well and was quietly rolled out around HSC a while back. Instead of $1 an hour as it costs downtown, parking will run you $2 an hour around HSC. But you can stay in one spot for four hours instead of two -- long enough to visit your sick granny or wait for tests.

The WPA's manager of strategic planning and spe­cial projects said the change has cut the number of tickets issued for expired meters by 25 per cent. And, because it now costs more to park all day on the street than it does in one of the parkades, the higher price has discouraged hospital staff from parking at meters and taking up valuable spots meant for visitors.

"People are able to find space around HSC and we're not writing as many tickets for expired meters," said Colin Stewart.

But some say parking around the hospital should be free -- at least for the first couple of hours -- like it was years ago. For people coping with the stress of a sick family member, medical treatment or even a new baby, hassle-free parking and fewer yellow tickets would be a simple kindness instead of the opportunis­tic cash grab that many feel it is.

 

 

 

Maria Lorenc, a lab tech at HSC, said she often sees cars being towed, especially on Sherbrook Street, and staff always hear grumbling about parking woes.

"When people come here it's traumatic. They come in to visit and maybe they lose track of time and when they come out their vehicle is gone, which is too bad," Lorenc said. "Something should be allocated for them to be able to park for at least two hours, for free."

The glitch in that idea is HSC staff, who also suffer from a parking crunch. When meter parking was cheaper, it was common to see staff in scrubs nip out every few hours to move their cars from one meter to another, shrinking the number of spots for visitors.

Making meters free around the hospital will only encourage staff who pay $80 to $140 a month for park­ing to nab all the metered spots for much cheaper, Stewart said.

Even if staff was banned from parking at meters while on the job, enforcement would be almost impos­sible. "I'd love to find a way to do it, but unfortunately it keeps coming back to that," he said.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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