Communities in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) are getting closer to a regional transit system, but there are still some important discussions to be had around funding and governance models.
The findings of a two-year study into transit systems in the Sea to Sky corridor, conducted by BC Transit in collaboration with SLRD communities, local First Nations, the provincial government and TransLink, were released last month, and are now making their way through the various municipal councils.
The study found that the market demand for regional transit is about 575 unique daily riders from Pemberton to Metro Vancouver, and lays out a short-term service proposal that would require eight buses and 15,100 additional service hours to provide six weekday round trips and four weekend round trips between Whistler/Squamish and Metro Vancouver, and an additional two daily round trips on the currently operating Pemberton-to-Whistler segment.
Total costs to implement it are estimated at $3.31 million, including up to $1.9 million to be split amongst the local governments.
Before the project can move forward, all the partners will have to decide on a governance model that would make decisions around service levels, fares and cost sharing.
"We've been talking with all of our partners in the corridor and we've got some good ideas, but we want to reach consensus before we go public with some of these things," said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
Whatever is implemented, the parties involved will look to avoid some of the problems that befell a regional transit pilot project that operated between Whistler and Squamish from 2005 to 2011, Wilhelm-Morden said.
"Its funding sources weren't secured and it had governance issues as well, and so as a result it wasn't successful in the long term," she said.
"That's what we want to avoid by going at this with a little more care and collaboration with our partners."
Regional transit is a "no brainer" for the Village of Pemberton (VOP), said Mayor Mike Richman, but the cost requirements make it tough on a town with a small budget.
It's a topic the VOP has brought up in recent conversations with the provincial Ministry of Transportation, Richman said.
"We need to look at that funding model for smaller towns. It just doesn't work," he said. "We all know that transit is becoming more and more important, it's the way of the future for social and economic reasons... but to put that level of financial burden on a small community, it just doesn't work."
Discussions with the other partners are ongoing, Richman added.
"Whose transit is it? How do we pay for it? How we break all that down is a really, really big nut to crack, and those are all conversations we need to have to figure it out," he said.
Regional transit is a growing priority inside the vast SLRD as well, said Chair Jack Crompton.
"An integrated regional transit service will connect communities, reduce highway congestion and contribute to resident affordability. Regional transit ticks boxes to be sure," Crompton wrote in an email.
The planning work done to this point sets out a clear path forward, but there is work yet to be done on the funding and governance fronts, he added.
"It is work we are eager to do," he said.
"There is a significant gap between a final investment decision and buses rolling up the Sea to Sky Highway. If planning and implementation are smooth, we could see a 2019 launch of regional transit."