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Promising start for Squamish-Whistler commuter bus

After two days of operation, Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE) manager Scott Pass says there are only two problems with the Squamish-Whistler commuter bus.



The first is the fact that buses are already filling up at certain times, and more buses could be needed in the future. The second problem is the lack of monthly passes for the commuter bus – they’ve already run out, and there’s a waiting list for the next batch.

"It’s certainly looking very promising and so far it’s exceeding our expectations," said Pass.

The first bus left Squamish on Monday, Jan. 3 at 6:09 a.m. with 38 passengers. The 6:24 bus left with 25 passengers. On Tuesday the commuter carried 48 and 38 passengers at those times.

The afternoon and evening buses are generally not as popular. Only one rider was on the 1:05 p.m. bus to Whistler while eight people were on the 9:10 p.m. on Monday. Those numbers grew on Tuesday with 12 and 13 riders respectively.

The return buses to Squamish have also grown in popularity. On the first day there was one rider heading from Whistler to Squamish at 7:45 a.m. The next day there were nine passengers.

The 4:45 p.m. bus was significantly more crowded with 52 riders on Monday and 60 on Tuesday. The 5:15 p.m. bus was less well used, with 7 and 12 riders respectively, while the midnight bus to Squamish had two riders and 11 riders respectively.

According to Pass, Whistler and Squamish transit, in co-operation with municipal governments and B.C. transit, will look at ways to make routes more efficient for commuters in the future, once they have more data.

As for the logistics of highway travel, Pass says so far all buses have arrived on time. "That’s something you wonder abut when you start up a new schedule, but so far our drivers have been doing an excellent job and we’ve been on time. That’s not to say things won’t change because of driving conditions or traffic, but we’re on time now."

The buses being used also have just 42 seats, which means some people have had to stand on the busier buses. Pass says commuters frequently have to stand for an hour or more while commuting in the Lower Mainland, but they would prefer to have seats for everyone.

The buses also don’t travel much faster than normal on the highway, with buses already travelling in 80 km/h zones in Whistler. The fastest sections on Highway 99 are 90 km/h, "and our buses don’t go over the speed limit," said Pass.

The Squamish Commuter is a pilot project that will run from Jan. 3 to the end of the winter schedule on April 24. The cost is $4 for passengers, and Whistler and Squamish are expected to subsidize the service by approximately $63,000 each over four months. A $40,000 grant from B.C. Transit and $10,000 from the Whistler Hotel Association is also helping fund the service.

The total cost of the pilot project is estimated to be $247,000, with Squamish and Whistler picking up almost $100,000 each, although they will receive the money from the fare box.

According to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, it’s estimated that more than 1,000 Squamish residents commute to Whistler every day.

Although the commuter service has been discussed for years it gained momentum after a horrific crash last year killed seven people, include five Whistler employees who were returning home to Squamish after a night shift.

The program will be evaluated during and after the pilot project. If it is successful, both the District of Squamish and Resort Municipality of Whistler will have to agree to share in the costs of running the service, and the regional district and B.C. Transit will have to approve the creation of a regional transit service.

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