By Amy Fendley With the addition of three new Dart buses, and one Orion, Whistler Transit is now officially wheelchair accessible. Bus service will also increase this fall with the new buses, and the buses have been designated safe havens. On July 23, the municipality and BC Transit launched three new blue, low-floor buses, officially marking the beginning of low-floor accessible transit in Whistler. The buses are more compact and designed to be less noisy and less intrusive in smaller neighbourhoods than the larger conventional buses. Low floor buses have no steps. They are constructed with the entire floor only 13 inches from the pavement, making it easier for everyone to board, particularly children, seniors and people with mobility difficulties. It also makes it easier for snowboarders and skiers wearing boots. For passengers who have trouble stepping up 13 inches, the bus has a kneeling feature that lowers the entry level step to standard sidewalk height. For wheelchair and scooter access, a hydraulic ramp can be deployed in six seconds. The $380,000 blue buses are shorter by 10 ft then the white buses, and have a seating capacity of 28. With the introduction of the new buses, comes the introduction of the McGruff House Program, a program designating Whistler Transit buses as safe havens for people who feel threatened or uncomfortable. Through the program transit drivers on Whistler’s 15-bus fleet are trained to deal with emergencies. Buses are also equipped so drivers can talk to police, and all buses will display a McGruff House decal. "For months we’ve been looking forward to the arrival of these English-made buses," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly. "They offer easy access for everyone, including anyone in a wheelchair, as well as the latest in engine and design technology." The buses feature state-of-the-art engine and environmental technology, which means significant fuel savings and high anti-pollution standards. Another feature which is a newly developed technology, patented in Canada and piloted by BC Transit, is the electronic destination signs that are highly visible in snow, rain or darkness. Whistler mechanics have been trained to work with the new technology and drivers have been trained to provide accessible rider service. Last year, Whistler Transit carried almost two million riders, with 12 buses operating in the winter peak season and seven or eight in the off-peak and summer seasons. However, riders dependent on wheelchairs had very limited means to transportation to and from the village. Whistler’s current passenger boarding rate of 46 rides per hour is the highest for any bus system in B.C. The Darts are made by Dennis Specialist Vehicles in Surrey, England, in partnership with Plaxton Coach and Bus, a coach body manufacturer. Currently, there are no vehicle manufacturers in North America producing heavy-duty mid-sized low floor buses to match the specifications of the new buses. The Dart buses, after travelling by ship from Britain through the Panama Canal and unloading at Tacoma, were painted in Surrey with the new Whistler Transit colours and alpenglow design. The buses were then driven to Penticton to have air conditioning installed. The Whistler Transit System is a partnership between the RMOW, Whistler Transit Ltd., and BC Transit, and is one of 67 transit systems operating under the new Municipal Systems Program of B.C. Whistler Transit is the first transit system within the program to have its own colours and design. Demonstrations of wheelchair or scooter boarding can be arranged by appointment, call 938-0388.