Running one of the busiest transit systems in Canada is hard work at the best of times, and according to outgoing Whistler Transit manager Scott Pass, the last few years have not been the best of times.
Pass tended his resignation last week after more than 12 years with the company, eight of them as manager. He said it was a difficult decision to leave, but in the end the job was becoming too demanding of his time.
“There’s many reasons I decided it was time to leave, some that were career- and work-related and some that were personal, but the main reason is that we don’t have the resources (at Whistler Transit) to do the job properly,” he said. “I’ve been working an enormous amount of time over the last little while, and the amount of effort goes beyond anything that would be reasonable.
“I’ve done everything I can to make sure the system keeps running out of loyalty to the system, loyalty to the community and loyalty to the employees, but it was becoming unreasonable, mainly in the last two years.”
Pass said it wasn’t unusual to work 60 hours a week coordinating the transit service operations, but in recent years the work load has increased to 70 or 80 hours in a week and he is on call around the clock.
Pass said the problems with the bus service are both administrative and with the bus fleet itself.
“Just the demands of the service are greater, and it’s taking far more time to manage the system than it used to,” said Pass. “Just finding and training employees is a massive undertaking for us, like everyone else in the valley — both drivers and mechanics. It’s busier in the office with the amount of phone calls, the requirements of the Olympics are coming up.”
The bus fleet is also aging, and buses require more work to keep them on the road. On Thursday, July 12, there were not enough buses available to follow the schedule. As a result riders were stranded around town and at Whistler Creekside after the arrival of the Whistler Mountaineer.
“That’s a perfect example,” said Pass. “The hot weather caused issues with buses overheating, while at the same time a number of parts that we ordered were delayed so we didn’t have any backup buses to put on the road. That’s an example of what happens when buses age — when they’re new they need fuel, oil and regular servicing, but as they get older they require repairs that are much more major.”
According to Pass, the buses are on the roads for anywhere from 18 to 23 hours a day. The hills and driving conditions take their toll, as does the salt during the winter months, but the number one cause of wear and tear is volume.
“The full loads we’re carrying are the single biggest factor,” he said. “We’re not like some systems where buses are carrying 27 or 35 riders an hour, we’re carrying 57 an hour sustained. During the last winter holidays we were carrying 78 passengers per hour, per bus. We have the highest ridership of any service in the province, 50 to 100 per cent higher than most systems.”
Pass said B.C. Transit is looking at stop-gap measures to bolster Whistler’s ailing buses between now and 2009, when Whistler is slated to get up to 20 new hydrogen buses, plus several buses that will run on natural gas. Those buses are not available yet from the manufacturers, but are on order.
Pass does not blame anyone for the problems at Whistler Transit, but said he needed to leave to be able to have free time again.
“There’s a work-life balance thing you need to have, and I don’t have that balance right now. I don’t mind working hard, but whatever I move onto after this I will work hard at it, but I need to have time for myself and my wife. I’d like to get back running, and maybe be able to go skiing sometimes — we live in Whistler for the lifestyle, but it’s been a hard couple of years where that’s concerned,” he said.
“I want to thank my drivers for all their hard work, and the mechanics for their hard work over the years. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one.”
Pass’s responsibilities at Whistler and Squamish Transit will be passed on to three employees as Whistler Transit is restructured. Scott Burley will become the operations manager, Keith Jamieson is promoted to maintenance manager, and Chris Hill will oversee the administrative work.
Whistler Transit is an independent operator hired by B.C. Transit and the municipality to run the Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE). The cost of running the system is split between the Resort Municipality of Whistler and B.C. Transit.