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Improving transportation a team effort

Council hears recommendations for 2017 and beyond

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While some have concerns about the impact more pay parking will have on Whistler's working class, reaction to proposed changes to parking fees and transit has been mostly positive, according to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"It was positive... far and away," Wilhelm-Morden said after an information session detailing the proposed changes on Tues., May 23.

"Some people had some questions and they were answered by council and staff, and there were a couple of concerns mentioned, but lots of comments along the lines of 'great to see you're moving on this,' (and) 'long time in the making.'"

As part of its ongoing effort to better manage congestion and parking in Whistler, the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) Transportation Advisory Group (TAG) is recommending a host of changes for 2017.

Among the changes is a plan to implement pay parking in Lots 4 and 5 — both of which are currently free — during peak seasons.

The TAG is recommending a discounted rate of $5 daily and $30 monthly for residents and employees for lots 4 and 5 from July 1 to Sept. 4 and Dec. 15 to Apr. 15.

But even a small fee can have a big impact on those living paycheque to paycheque, said Whistler resident Dani Twogood, who started a petition to keep the lots free.

The petition had garnered 348 signatures as of Tues., May 23.

"That could be someone's gas to get into town, that could be the last little bit of money someone has to be able to pay their rent before they get their next paycheque," she said.

"That last little $20 to $30, it doesn't seem like much money, but it actually is a lot here in this town... that's groceries, that's milk and bread and eggs."

Twogood brought her concerns to council at its regular meeting on May 23.

"What about those in the greater community, those who need transport to get to town? Why is it that we need to be paying money that we (aren't) paying right now?" she asked.

"It makes it difficult for us to run errands, to go shopping, to look at retail stores, to visit friends."

Wilhelm-Morden said that lots 1 to 5 will still be free after 5 p.m., and that the TAG is recommending a number of measures to offset the pay parking, including free transit on weekends throughout the summer and making surface lots in the village free after 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.

"It's a multi-faceted issue that's going to take attention from everybody in the community: business, government, employees, residents and so on," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"So we've been as inclusive as we possibly can, we've been consultative for the last 18 months and I think I feel confident that we're coming up with some very good solutions."

After the meeting, the mayor said she had heard similar concerns about affordability from others.

"It can be a lot of money to some people, and I will be interested to see employers stepping up to the table," she said.

"And for those people who have to drive or who have to commute, hopefully their employers will be looking at providing those monthly passes as part of their employment remuneration. Certainly at my law firm we'll be looking at that carefully."

But parking is just one piece of a larger puzzle when it comes to managing Whistler's traffic woes.

The TAG is recommending 2017 actions in five areas: Highway 99 Efficiencies; Transit Improvements; Peak Day Operations; Better Parking Management; and Preferred Transportation Modes.

Along with adding pay parking to Lots 4 and 5, increases are planned to rates in Day Lots 1, 2 and 3, as well as the Whistler Library and Conference Centre lots.

If approved by council at its June 6 meeting, starting July 1 the new rates for Lots 1 to 3 will be $10 daily (up from $8) and $50 monthly (up from $30), with a maximum stay of 24 hours (down from the current 72).

Village surface lots will be free until 10 a.m., and hourly rates for village lots will stay at $1 for the first hour and $2 for the second.

On the transit side of things, there will be more free transit this summer (Saturday, Sunday and holiday Mondays, from Canada Day until Labour Day), cheaper bus passes (from $65/month to $50), increased service to the tune of 1,750 more hours, and secure bicycle parking in Whistler Village.

A queue jumper for BC Transit busses to bypass congestion at Creekside will also be piloted this summer.

"(It's) an idea that has been used in other locations. (It will) allow just our BC Transit buses to bypass congested traffic at Creekside using the shoulder," said manager of infrastructure services James Hallisey in a presentation to council.

"We still need to have several conversations with the Ministry of Transportation before they find a way that's essentially safe enough for them to approve that, but we are making progress on that."

Beyond this year (2018-2020), the TAG proposes to expand regional and local transit (three more Whistler busses and 6,500 more service hours by April 2018), improve signals at intersections, reduce transit rider costs year round, build more sidewalks and Valley Trail extensions and develop a Whistler combo visitor pass card that incudes transportation.

In the longer term (2020 and beyond), it proposes to improve capacity on the highway through Whistler, further expand transit, test a park-and-ride system south of Whistler Village and look at bringing back passenger trains from North Vancouver to Lillooet.

Another community open house is tentatively planned for the fall of 2017 to gauge interest in some of the longer-term ideas.

There have also been discussions at TAG about having Whistler Blackcomb consider pay parking in its lots, and returning some of that revenue to local transit, Hallisey said.

"The comments we've heard to date are that of course they would have to cover their costs, that all makes sense, but there will be a further conversation on that for sure," he said.

As Whistler Transit paid routes currently generate about $2.5 million in revenue, it would cost at least that much to provide free transit year-round — but likely significantly more, as more service would be needed to accommodate the accompanying growth.

Staff and council will be discussing the feedback they've received before the 2017 recommendations are formalized at the next council meeting on June 6.

"If there are going to be any changes we'll have to have a discussion about that, but I think it's important to note that this is a work in progress, and that there will be tweaks and changes to the program as we roll it out and as we experience what happens as a result," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"So it's a living thing."

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