A few years ago, Whistler used to boast about its bus system - highest ridership in the province, highest cost-recovery, high customer satisfaction and reasonable fares (it was $1.50 until 2008, now it's $2.50).
So what the hell happened?
In 2011, we're confronted with some pretty stark options - cut service or raise taxes and fares, or some combination of both.
The cost increases are being blamed on new buses, the new facility, new contract terms, service expansion and over-estimated revenue projections - mainly from pay parking, a revenue stream we never relied on before. Pay parking was actually supposed to improve transit over previous levels.
Most of the transit solutions being tabled by the RMOW and BC Transit involve establishing a minimally acceptable system, with some additional services including a highway bus. That model would completely eliminate service to Spring Creek - my neighbourhood - as well as Alta Lake Road, Blueberry, etc, while cutting service to pretty much everywhere that's not Creekside.
All of the documentation is online and residents of Whistler have until July 8 to fill out the Whistler Transit Review comment form that's available at www.whistler.ca. I advise everyone to read the documents to see how the changes will affect them personally.
For the municipality to cut transit service at the same time we're introducing pay parking seems a little ridiculous - in my mind, you can't mandate pay parking unless you give people a viable, affordable alternative, and the proposed cuts make transit less viable for many of us, and especially for employees that don't work nine to five jobs. These transit cuts will force people into their cars and into a pay parking model that none of us can afford.
Speaking on behalf of my neighbourhood, cutting service to Spring Creek is unacceptable unless the municipality and BC Transit can finally do the right thing and add a southbound highway stop for the neighbourhood - and a crosswalk or traffic light to allow people to cross the road safely. If these changes go through, the only way to get home from the village would be to take the service to the end of the line at Cheakamus Crossing or Function, turn around and get off at the highway, adding time and inconvenience to a trip that can already take 30 to 40 minutes on a busy day. That's not what I'd call viable.
The reality is that most of Whistler's workers live at the ends of town; Spring Creek and Cheakamus Crossing to the south and Rainbow and Emerald to the north. Yet these are the areas that will get the short end of all the proposed changes, and where people have the fewest options. People in White Gold can walk to the village, for people in Cheakamus Crossing it's 30 to 40 minutes by bike - and impossible during the winter.
It all comes down to service hours and the recommended system would cut hours from about 75,000 to 58,60= per year. I really think there are ways we can both cut and improve service if we're a little bit creative about it.
The first thing is to get rid of about three-quarters of our long buses and replace them with shuttle buses. This would disrupt the hydrogen pilot project (another Olympic legacy) but that pilot hasn't done us any favours so far by requiring a new facility and new buses.
Second, get rid of all neighbourhood service with the long buses. It's nuts that buses spend 10 minutes turning around in Spring Creek or Function or Cheakamus Crossing or Tamarisk while maybe picking up an extra rider or two.
Long buses would be for highway use only, travelling up and down the highway from Function with every third bus continuing north from the village to Alpine and Emerald. Service would likely be every 10 to 15 minutes to the south, 15 to 30 in the north.
Four buses travelling this route 21 hours a day equals 30,660 hours.
The shuttle buses would serve the neighbourhoods from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
One short bus would circle Cheakamus Crossing, Function Junction, Spring Creek and Tamarisk, dropping riders off at designated highway stops or the turnaround at Function. Another shuttle bus would circle Bayshores, Creekside, Nordic and Alta Vista. Another would serve White Gold, Spruce Grove, Nesters, Tapley's/Blueberry and Base II. Another would circle Alpine, Rainbow and Emerald.
That's four buses working 19 hours, 365 days a year - 27,740 hours. That adds up to 58,400 hours, 200 less than the recommended model, and it serves almost every neighbourhood with no gaps in service. It also reduces the fleet from 15 long buses to six long buses and six short buses, cutting costs even further.
Buses wouldn't go into the village anymore, but there would be a highway stop between Village Gate and Lorimer so riders could catch the rerouted Village Shuttle. Switching buses can be annoying, but it's better than the alternative - no buses at all.