Vancouver council overrules staff, approves free parking for veterans

Vancouver councillors have rejected a staff recommendation to cancel free on-street parking for military veterans around Remembrance Day and voted unanimously to extend the freebie year-round for at least a year.

“That’s really encouraging to hear,” said Archie Steacy, 91, a retired lieutenant-colonel who headed up the organization that brought commemorative veteran licence plates to B.C. in 2004. The free parking is for cars equipped with those plates.

But the staff report that recommended against free parking for veterans — because it “incentivizes driving” and it’s “in direct opposition to our climate-change and transportation policies” — left a bad taste in his mouth.

He had sharp words at council’s finance committee when he appeared online for a five-minute presentation, particularly about staff research that showed there were 12,000 veterans who would cost the city $2 million a year in lost parking revenue.

The committee heard ICBC has a record of just 350 veteran’s plates.

And staff said in the report there was a concern that family and friends would drive the veterans’ cars to take advantage of the free parking.

“That’s really the most rudest thing I’ve ever heard, the most disgusting. Disgusting,” Steacy told the committee.

He rejected a staff suggestion that veterans could be honoured in another way, such as grants to the Royal Canadian Legion or regimental groups.

“That’s a ridiculous thing to be considered. How would it be administered? It’s almost rude, it’s actually being rude. Good grief.”

Even after the committee struck down the staff’s recommendations and replaced them with the promise of free parking at meters, with the possibility of extending it to city-run pay parking lots for a year-long pilot project, Steacy was skeptical.

“They’re just going to do the same thing in a year from now,” he said. “It’s just a stupid, stupid thing.”

In a submission to the committee, the B.C. Veterans Commemorative Association said the staff report was wrong in saying there are 90,000 veterans in B.C., 48,000 of them in Metro Vancouver and 12,000 of them in Vancouver, because veterans make up two per cent of the population. The Association said the 90,000 figure was outdated since many veterans have died, and many no longer drive.

The group also took issue with the staff’s statement that free parking for veterans doesn’t support the city’s incentives for reducing vehicle use, saying that elderly veterans can’t cycle or even take public transport.

Steacy said free parking wasn’t about money. “It’s a testament to their service and to pay homage to these people,” he said. “All they ask for is a little recognition.”

He said a group of young people who saw his plates, which are blue and include an image of a poppy, gave him the thumbs up and thanked him for his service recently.

“This is a very, very small token of respect (for veterans),” he said.

Sharel Fraser, the Commemorative Association’s treasurer, disputed the staff estimate that free parking would cost the city $2 million, noting one veteran in the group calculated he spent just $196 in one year on parking.

“It’s really quite a minimal number,” she said.

The commemorative licence plates are available to veterans who served during war or in a postwar capacity in the Second World War, the Korean conflict, the Gulf Wars or in Afghanistan. Veterans who served during NATO or UN operations are also eligible, as are those members actively servicing in the Canadian Forces and have a trade qualification.

Coun. Pete Fry apologized for causing veterans anxiety with the process.

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