Two members of the Squamish Sikh community made presentations at the Sept. 6 District of Squamish meeting, imploring council to continue funding for the Squamish Commuter service that is ending on Sept. 30 after almost five years in operation.
"This has been running since 2005, after a tragic car accident killed seven, five from the Sikh community," Avtar Gidda of the Squamish Sikh Society reminded council. "One of the cars was carrying night shift workers coming home from Whistler.
"We understand that the (commuter bus) service was popular until fares rapidly increased without looking at the impact or consulting with users, from $5 to $8, which is 60 per cent."
Mohammad Asfar, another Sikh leader, said council should look at the $200,000 price tag as a small cost - half of one per cent of the District of Squamish budget and one-tenth of one per cent of Whistler's budget - to keep commuters safe. As well, he suggested that it was important for the local economy to get workers to Whistler and back safely.
"What I'd like to indicate to you is we ought to look at this in terms of what our community has been experiencing the last few years with the drastic impacts of closing of industries - pulp mills, saw mills and other plants, the BCR (B.C. Rail) regional centre. It has really transformed the nature of our community.
"This economy needs to be mobilized."
Whistler was the first to cut its 25 per cent share, roughly $200,000 in light of the recent budget shortfall. Unable to make up for Whistler's share, Squamish also cut its funding, another 25 per cent. BC Transit funds the other 50 per cent, but only in terms of matching funds with the municipalities.
Mayor Gardner said he appreciated the delegation's concerns, but said the commuter wasn't economically feasible. "The number our staff put on the subsidy per rider was $1,500 per year, with a similar size subsidy from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and twice that from the province, so about a $6,000 subsidy for each rider of government money, tax money," he said.
The district did look at costs, and the potential was that the total subsidy could go up to $8,000 per rider per year, based on the average number of riders per bus.
But while governments can't afford that, Gardner said they were expecting a report from BC Transit with alternatives in the next few weeks.
One of those alternatives would be working with Greyhound to improve the schedule.
"Greyhound runs eight buses to Whistler every day without any government subsidies," said Gardner. "They do this with things like freight revenues, and the challenge for commuters is they don't run at prime times. So they're one of our potential partners we'll be talking with to see if they can reorganize schedules."