Fly home on the bus New Owl service goes late-late-late By Chris Woodall When the night spots close late into the night, Whistler's recently extended bus service can take you home. Buses now run to after 3 a.m. on the winter schedule, in effect since the end of November. The new "Owl Trip" hours are a vast improvement on the old days when Whistler's transit system went to bed about midnight. The result left Whistlerites out for the evening little option — bars close down about 2 a.m. — but to use a vehicle to get home, or call a cab. The late-night runs should also help hospitality industry employees get a safe ride home after work, as opposed to hitchhiking or spending their minimum wages on more expensive transportation. The bus fares haven't changed for the late-night service. Adults still pay $1.50 for a one-way trip. Taxi fares are something else. As Pique Newsmagazine has discovered over the past few years, it costs $15 (including $2 tip) to go from the village to Emerald Estates, about $8 (with tip) to get into Nordic Estates, or about $6 (with tip) to go to Whistler Cay. Whistler Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden acknowledges that Whistler Taxi isn't pleased with the extended service. It is the only taxicab company in town. "Taxi operators aren't happy because they see this as direct competition," says Wilhelm-Morden, chair of the transportation advisory group (TAG) that concocted the later runs from suggestions made by locals. "There are social aspects that outweigh those concerns." Attempts have been made to minimize the intrusion factor of buses chugging through sleeping streets. From midnight onward, buses don't make the full trip through neighbourhoods either north or south of the village, but travel along Highway 99, stopping at turnoffs into Alpine Meadows, Nordic Estates, Brio, etc. "They won't go into subdivisions," says Wilhelm-Morden. "There's no question our buses are big and noisy, so essentially it's a highway express bus." The bus will have to turn into Emerald Estates at one end of the run to go back south, and at the Tamarisk turnaround to go back north. The last bus leaving the village for Emerald Estates now boogies off at 2:30 a.m. from the former Fitzsimmons Loop, now called the Gondola Transit Exchange. The final trip from the village south to Creekside and beyond is at 3:05 a.m., going all the way to Function Junction. The Tapley's Connector route has been improved, too, with buses running every half hour to midnight. Buses served the Tapley’s Farm, Whistler Cay, and Blueberry Hill areas only until 6 p.m. previously, making it inconvenient if not impossible for riders to get home after work, especially if they were coming from Function Junction, or wanting to do some shopping before heading home. "We want to offer the same level of service as with every other route," Wilhelm-Morden says. Some residents of the Blueberry Hill area have argued against the Tapley's Connector route saying buses are empty more often than not. "Even though there may be buses that look empty, if the service is offered on a consistent basis it will increase ridership," replies Wilhelm-Morden. TAG has big plans for the future, too. The annual town hall meeting on Saturday, Dec. 13, features a look at TAG's six transportation scenarios. The six will be pared to two or three toward the end of January. "We wanted the TAG solutions to be further along than they are, but this is a chance to present the 'rough cuts'," Wilhelm-Morden says. Residents are encouraged to drop by Myrtle Philip school to add their comments, beginning at 9 a.m. "They will help reduce the number of scenarios, or modify them," the TAG chief says. The full Town Hall meeting gets started at 10 a.m. And last but not least, the bus fare coin cards are going over big time, despite technical glitches with the 30-day card, Wilhelm-Morden says. New 30-day cards may be available as early as next week.