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Council agrees to expand transit service hours over next three years

Express commuter route will also be added this winter as pilot project

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Whistler's mayor and council have signed off on an agreement with BC Transit to expand transit service levels and introduce a new express commuter route as a pilot project this winter.

At the Tuesday, July 24 meeting of council, elected officials voted to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with BC Transit to add a proposed 7,500 additional service hours and three new buses over the next three years.

The additional service hours will be dedicated to improving "the core network" of Whistler Transit routes and on-time performance.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) will shoulder $452,833 of the total $989,067 projected project cost over that period, as per the cost-sharing arrangement with BC Transit.

The RMOW's costs are expected to be mitigated by optimizing additional revenues from the added service hours and from exploring possible alternative funding, according to the report presented to council. The report also makes clear that the transit expansion will likely come at a cost to taxpayers—although staff is looking into covering a portion of the costs through the municipality's Community Transportation Initiative Fund.

The additional service hours come on the heels of last year's MOU to expand Whistler Transit service by 6,500 hours and add three buses in 2018. Approximately 1,800 of those hours have already been dedicated to this year's spring, summer and fall schedules, with the remainder likely to be implemented this winter.

In December, Whistler Transit will also debut a new route, the 10 Valley Express, as a pilot project aimed at serving the resort's commuters.

The express route will forego the village and will remain strictly on Highway 99 in order to cut down on travel time.

"We were proposing to keep the service on the highway as much as possible to try to create that streamlined service for commuters to try to increase ridership," said Levi Megenbir, senior planner with BC Transit.

BC Transit devised the route following engagement with local riders and the business community. With nearly 600 responses to its survey, BC Transit determined the 10 Valley Express would be best offered during the peak hours of 6:30 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. The route is targeted to run every 30 minutes during those peak times.

The route will require the reimplementation of four stops along Highway 99—two near Creekside and two near the village—that were introduced during the 2010 Olympics and still need to be signed off on by the province.

Coun. Steve Anderson wondered if the 10 Valley Express would better serve the community if it made a stop in the village—the main starting or end point for the majority of Whistler's riders, according to BC Transit's survey.

"About 80 per cent of the total system ridership is still trying to get to and from the village, so what this particular service is looking to do is provide that service for the remaining 20 per cent," Megenbir explained.

Even with the recent changes to service levels, municipal transportation planner Emma DalSanto noted how Whistler's transit system still experiences reliability and passenger load issues, especially during peak times. She also noted how Whistler's main transit hub, the Gondola Transit Exchange, is bursting at the seams.

"There's a lot going on there," she said. "When we have all those different uses there, we are reaching capacity and that is actually causing some issues with on-time performance."

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