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Aspen mayor to discuss public transportation, environment

Colorado mountain town faced challenges similar to those in Sea to Sky corridor

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As successful four-season mountain resorts Aspen and Whistler have a lot of issues in common, from addressing global warming to the ongoing challenge of housing and retaining staff.

Regional transportation has also become a major focus for both communities, and will the main topic discussed when City of Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud visits Whistler this weekend.

While Whistler still manages to house approximately 70 per cent of resort staff, more than twice that of Aspen, thousands of workers still commute from Pemberton and Squamish on a daily basis. The Resort Municipality of Whistler and Village of Pemberton have been co-funding a commuter service for more than four years now, and for the past two winters the RMOW and District of Squamish, with assistance from B.C. Transit, have funded a pilot project to run a regular bus service between those communities.

The next step for the three communities is to form and fund a regional transit authority, which they are in the process of applying for. It won’t be easy with B.C. Transit’s budget all but frozen in recent years. The authority may also be funded by a proposed three cent per litre gasoline tax, which the province does not support.

That’s where Klanderud’s visit comes in. Aspen successfully spearheaded the creation of the Roaring Fork Transit Authority in the 1980s, expanding it through the 1990s to the towns down-valley where the majority of Aspen staff now live. The service has earned several awards since that time.

“Although we did have an (transit) agency before, when we formed the authority we were able to raise taxes for mass transit and have intergovernmental agreements with those who chose to be a part of the authority,” said Klanderud.

“My understanding is that Whistler and the other communities surrounding Whistler would like to hear how we accomplished what we did, and how they can do the same.”

One reason the RFTA was established and expanded was to reduce traffic in the corridor. In 1993 a decision was made to keep traffic at 1993 levels, “and we’ve been quite successful doing that,” said Klanderud. “We made a commitment to mass transit and other transportation programs, such as the installation of paid parking, a transportation options program for employers, a car-share program — to try and stabilize traffic and emissions in Aspen.”

Another reason for the creation of the RFTA was to assist Aspen employers that live in several bedroom communities down the valley. In the 1970s Aspen housed most of its employees within the town limits, but a no-growth policy helped real estate prices soar, and as the local population aged and needed larger residences, a majority of staffers moved down the highway.

While efforts are being made to create and protect more staff housing within Aspen, Klanderud says the town will always rely on the highway for staff.

Another reason for establishing the RFTA was the environment, and the fact that the majority of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the town come from cars.

The RFTA is in the process of cleaning up its bus fleet, recently purchasing seven hybrid buses by General Motors. Klanderud points out that TransLink, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, was one of the first municipal services to invest in the hybrids. She says there is a genuine concern about climate change in her community and ensuring the future viability of the ski industry.

“You can’t just talk about mass transit without talking about affordable housing, growth and the environment, all these things are linked together,” she said. “It’s difficult to resolve them. On one hand mass transit makes it possible for people in outlying communities to get where they work, but it also facilitates more development in those areas because now there’s an easier way to commute than getting into an automobile and driving in bad weather for many miles.

“While we support mass transit, I and most of Aspen City council agree that the best idea is for people to live where they work.”

Klanderud will be speaking in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton at events hosted by the Leadership Sea to Sky Forums.

The Squamish meeting is on Thursday, June 1 at the Adventure Centre and runs from 9 to 11 a.m. A minimum $5 donation is suggested.

The Whistler meeting is at Millennium Place on June 1 from noon to 2:30 p.m. The cost is $10 and includes lunch.

On Friday, June 2 Klanderud will be at the SLRD boardroom in Pemberton from 10 a.m. to noon, with a suggested $5 minimum donation.

While the Revenue Canada Charities Division will not allow the Whistler Forum to host Dialogue Cafes any longer, the forum will be having an informal meeting with Klanderud at Blenz from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 3.

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