Decline in ridership disputed by BC Rail By Don Anderson The Resort Municipality of Whistler says passenger rail from North Vancouver to Whistler has plummeted by 40 per cent since 1988. BC Rail is suggesting that passenger use to Whistler has remained fairly steady for the past eight years. So, who's in the right? "This isn't about pointing fingers," says planning director Mike Vance. "This is not meant as a criticism. It's meant to provoke discussion about what was earlier considered as an important mode of transport to Whistler. If traffic congestion is increasing an alternative mode is rail." The 40 per cent drop in ridership detailed by the RMOW in its recent monitoring report provoked considerable concern from participants in the round table discussions at last month's Town Hall meeting. According to the municipality, rail passenger use from North Vancouver to Whistler fell from 17,775 in 1988 to 9,258 in 1994. Vance said the statistics were provided by BC Rail's supervisor of marketing and group sales. Cathy Thomson, director of passenger services, says those statistics are somewhat misleading and do not accurately reflect passenger use of BC Rail to Whistler. She says the number of travellers from points around the province increased from 31,150 to 34,040 during that same period. "There is a huge difference in the numbers and I suspect that whoever put them together here at BC Rail wasn't in the passenger department... I'm not sure what information (the municipality) was using," says Thomson. "It's important for people to know that." BC Rail's statistics — the set that Thomson is referencing — include passenger trips in and out of Whistler from eight locations, including North Vancouver, Squamish, Lillooet, Clinton, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George. If there was any drop in ridership it was attributed to rail disputes, price increases, or the snow conditions atop Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains. "It's been relatively steady but it is definitely not 40 per cent down, from what I've been hearing," says Thomson. In any event, BC Rail is planning to continue making improvements in service to Whistler. Last summer the company added the Whistler Explorer, providing additional service to and from Whistler. This winter a "host person" will be hired to work at the Whistler terminal to provide information about services, updates on arrival and departure times, and assist passengers with ticketing and luggage. BC Rail is also investigating the possibility of partnering with local retailers to construct a new terminal closer to the village. Vandals, says Thomson, have plagued the existing station and made it worthwhile considering building a facility closer to town and under the umbrella of greater security. "We're looking at a whole bunch of things, and there's no question that we want to provide some better service there."