Following official requests from both the Whistler and Squamish municipalities, B.C. Transit has committed to studying the feasibility of establishing a transit link between the two communities.
The feasibility study will start in July this year and, depending on the outcome, some form of public transit could be up and running between Squamish and Whistler as early as next winter.
Steve New, head of the B.C. Transit municipal systems department, said a phased-in approach will likely be adopted and it is possible the first phase could be a B.C. Transit-backed van pool or car pool program.
"We will be looking at both private sector and public sector options to help meet some of the demand for travel between those two communities," said New.
This could mean incorporating an existing bus service into part of the run, like the Greyhound partnership in the Pemberton-Whistler route. New said, however, the route between Squamish and Whistler will likely present greater potential for a public-private partnership than the run to Pemberton.
"There is more business that side of Whistler," he said. "There are more companies travelling between Whistler and Vancouver. We want to explore who they are and what our options are. We want to make sure there is no stone left unturned."
New said one of the obvious partnerships is with an existing van pool program.
B.C. Transit has been looking into the feasibility of getting involved in van pools but has yet to put theory into practice in the province. The Sea to Sky corridor, the east coast of Vancouver Island and parts of greater Vancouver are all candidates for a pilot project.
"You have to look no farther south than Seattle to see how successful van pool and car pool programs can be," noted New.
He said this option will work for some, but not all commuters. One of the challenges with the Squamish-Whistler run, he noted, is to try and accommodate employees who have a diverse range of work start and knock-off times.
New said the B.C Transit study team will benefit from some of the travel-demand data collected by the Ministry of Highways for their Highway 99 multi-modal transit study, the results of which are due to be made public this spring.
"The other thing we will look at is the issue of the development of Whistler and some of the bigger questions around land use and land requirements over time," said New.
"The major driving force behind this study is that both councils support it and see the benefits of having a more regional commuter service and we are generally quite satisfied with the success of the shorter link to the north with the Pemberton Valley."
New said the timing of the study will allow any new proposals arising from it to be built into the business plan for fiscal 2002/2003. A van pool program, however, could start before the next fiscal year "because there arent the same funding requirements as some of the other options."