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Municipality pays for new WAVE bus

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Council has approved a new bus for the public transit system, which will increase frequency and reliability and expand the service to Spring Creek.

Due to the provincial funding freeze on BC Transit, the cost of the expansion to the Whistler and Valley Express Transit System (WAVE) will fall almost entirely on the municipality’s shoulders.

The new bus will cost more than $83,000 and the money will come from the municipality’s general fund.

Though council approved the fleet expansion, there were concerns at Monday’s meeting about the municipality’s future costs for public transit.

Councillor Ken Melamed, who takes the bus to work every day in the winter, said this is just the first step in a move for the province to pull away from its transit obligations.

"This is a slippery slope," he said.

"The people of Whistler need to wake up to what this means."

The options are already on the table said Melamed. The municipality will either have to cut transit services or raise taxes and increase/introduce parking fees.

Councillor Nick Davies, doing some quick calculations at the council table, proposed the municipality could fund the cost of transit entirely through increased taxes. He predicted a $20 increase on his own tax bill.

But Melamed said it’s about more than picking up the tab; it’s about the "complete abdication" of the province’s responsibility to public transit.

BC Transit currently picks up roughly 46 per cent of WAVE costs, with the municipality paying the rest.

But BC Transit predicts a funding shortfall of $75,000-$150,000 to maintain the current transit service in Whistler for the next year. The municipality will absorb this cost.

Councillor Kristi Wells, chair of the Transit Management Committee, recognizes that in order to keep increasing riders on the transit system, the municipality has to keep up the service.

She said the municipality has to look at a more dedicated funding source or lobby the provincial government to ensure funding continues for the service in the future.

Melamed said that with Whistler’s commitment to sustainability, the resort could spearhead the charge to lobby the province to keep up its commitment to transit. Public transit is fundamental to the operations of the municipality he added.

Currently WAVE has the highest ridership of 69 municipal transit systems in B.C., the highest riders per capita and highest rides per hour in the province as well as the lowest cost per ride.

Municipal staff are currently evaluating the expansion of the service hours during the spring and summer season to meet growing demand. This will cost about $84,000 and will be brought forward as part of the 2004 budget. If approved the service could begin as early as the spring. The new bus is expected to be part of the service in one year’s time.

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