Editorial: Free parking at all hospitals in Northern Ireland is not realistic, yet Stormont acts as if it is

News Letter editorial on Wednesday March 27 2024:
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​In 2022, just before the fall of Stormont, MLAs voted to introduce free car parking at hospitals in Northern Ireland.​

It was a classic act of Stormont populism, something the assembly has excelled at.

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Parking at hospitals has been a growing problem for three decades. Why? Because there are more cars than there have ever been, and people like to use them to go to hospitals. Few people who visit hospitals can do so by public transport. Even if they live in a city such as Belfast, which most people in NI don’t, they might have to change bus three times to get to a hospital.

Yet Stormont acts as if it is pro public transport and pro perfect provision for drivers. Have cake and eat cake – remember that idea?

It is not the fault of the many people who are treated at hospital or who visit loved ones at hospital that there is congestion at the sites. It is not the fault of the many people – usually admirable and sometimes heroic – who work in those hospitals that they too typically want to drive to work.

They can’t cycle if they live far away or give lifts to other visitors ir if is wet weather or they have to collect their children from school or go to work in different directions.

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It is obvious that the car is, and will remain, by far the most popular and indeed humane way of getting to hospital. Yet it seemed not to occur to MLAs that the abolition of charges might, as the health minister Robin Swann points out, make cause a free-for-all. Hospital car parks already often experience long queues when they charge. Imagine the scramble if they didn’t.

An ultimate solution is paid-for, often high-rise parking near a key hospital building, with many disabled spaces. Then free parking for staff that, as you move further from the main site.

Sinn Fein was to the helm of scrapping any fee at all in 2022, and Michelle O’Neill is clearly wedded to that unrealistic idea, as it is to other unrealistic financial policies.