Whistler bus riders will see the bright side of pay parking this November.
Revenue generated from the pay parking lots will allow the Resort Municipality of Whistler to begin winter bus service on Nov. 25, the first day of the ski season.
Without that parking revenue service would have started mid-December, which Mayor Ken Melamed says had been an issue plaguing Whistler before the Olympics.
"Due to increasing costs to provide transit, and no increased revenue, what you saw progressively over the years was the winter service starting later and later," he said.
He said winter service used to start one week prior to ski season but in 2008, in the winter prior to the Olympics, that service didn't begin until the middle of December.
Pay parking is really a "side issue" to transit, he said.
"The question of how to fund transit is obviously important because there are limited dollars," he said. "I think one of the things the Olympics taught us was what a fully funded transit service would be able to provide. We know that we can't provide that, so we're back to that question of managing trade-offs and being able to live within our means."
One of those trade-offs, it seems, is pay parking in Lots 1, 2 and 3. Melamed stated last council meeting that he thinks Lots 4 and 5 should also be pay parking, telling Pique that the revenue from there could potentially support transit, including route expansion throughout Whistler. At this point, other revenue streams to fund transit have not been identified.
Pay parking is also expected to lead to more bus riders, as some people leave their vehicles at home rather than pay to park in the village.
This winter, bus service to the Cheakamus Crossing and Rainbow neighbourhoods will be rolled out as part of B.C. Transit's 2010-2011 expansion plan outlined last April. A Brio winter-only detour, which was a popular route during the Olympics, is also being looked at.
The Brio detour and early winter service were two points identified in the 2007 WAVE Five-Year Transit Business Plan. Others include separate Alpine and Emerald routes on winter evenings to offset demand from the Rainbow neighbourhood; an express bus from Emerald to Function; and Bayshores-Upper Nordic Shuttle. But riders won't see these improvements until at least next year.
Council passed a resolution asking B.C. Transit to match the RMOW's additional $500,000 - generated through pay parking revenue - in order to expand the Whistler transit system. That would be almost $1 million in transit expansion money for Whistler. But B.C. Transit won't know how much money it has for service expansion until April, after the provincial government rolls out its annual budget.
Whistler transit is funded 53 per cent by the RMOW and 47 per cent by B.C. Transit. The two partners need to coordinate their budgets before expansion can happen.
But Emma DalSanto, traffic demand management coordinator for the RMOW, said the municipality is confident B.C. Transit will provide them the funds to expand Whistler's transit system.
"By passing that resolution, council gave B.C. Transit and the provincial government the message that Whistler is serious about transit improvements," she said.
In his presentation to council last Tuesday, B.C. Transit CEO Manuel Achadinha said that ridership and cost per ride is way above the provincial average. It's a system that is very well utilized - the only thing Whistler needs to work on is improving its service routes.
Del Santo said B.C. Transit is currently working on a "three-year system overhaul." The outline and timeline of that overhaul will be presented to council in October, identifying exactly what Whistler needs. Over the next couple of months B.C. Transit will rank service expansions, including the Emerald-Function shuttle. She said the rankings will likely be available in April.
"We need to do the planning in advance in case we do get the expansion money," she said.
If the money is not provided by B.C. Transit, Melamed said route expansion will not be a possibility.
"We've told the community that we're not prepared to raise taxes to provide additional funds for transit," he said. "The bottom line is we have a transit service that we have today (and) we need to enhance additional revenue.
"I am concerned," he added.
But he said that convenience is "probably the main issue, even more than cost." Olympic service was slightly more expensive but was still very well received because people could rely on a bus every five-to-seven minutes.
"People will use a service that is highly predictable and regular," he said. "What worked in the Olympics was that you could walk out the door without having to look at a schedule."
A 25-Year Master Plan for the transit system is also in the works, which will start once the Whistler Official Community Plan (OCP) update is complete.