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RMOW plans for regional transit down the road

Only one-month left for Squamish/Whistler bus pilot project

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Squamish to Whistler transit riders have one month left to enjoy the popular bus service between the two towns before the pilot project comes to an end.

Though it will be disappointing to some to lose the service, Whistler's general manager of engineering and public works, Brian Barnett, assures they are working on a long-term permanent solution for transit service in the corridor.

It's just going to take a little time.

"We've engaged our municipal lawyers to start looking at the details of the structure for a regional transit system and we'll be presenting a preferred option to the community in the spring so that we can try to get some agreement in terms of what would be the best structure and financing sources for a permanent system," Barnett said this week.

Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton councils have all passed resolutions in support of regional transit, recognizing the importance of accommodating employee needs and managing air quality and congestion in the corridor.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has yet to support the initiative. Instead, the board asked for more detailed information on the proposal.

Barnett said they are looking at a number of different options for a regional system.

"There's a number of different models that could work and one is through the SLRD models and others are independent of the SLRD, so it's not completely linked with any particular local government agency at this time," he said.

One option that is being seriously considered is a corridor-wide fuel tax to pay for the bus system.

"We suspect that the province wouldn't fund this so it would be up to us to fund it and the preferred option right now appears to be the fuel tax," explained Barnett.

He was quick to point out that a fuel tax, in the realm of three or four cents per litre, would not necessarily mean a hike in gas prices.

The Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) has a six cent per litre fuel tax already. By comparison, the gas prices in Squamish or Whistler aren't six cents cheaper.

"So we're already paying the equivalent of a fuel tax, we're just paying that to the gas companies," explained Barnett. "I'd rather we implement the fuel tax and have those revenues come into the communities as opposed to go out to the gas companies."

Whistler is trying to develop a preferred strategy by the spring and present it to the community for feedback. By the summer they're hoping to start the process of formal approvals from the province or the approving agencies, which could take several months.

The Sea to Sky corridor could have a regional transit system in place, from Squamish to Mount Currie, by the end of 2006.

In the meantime, the Whistler/Squamish pilot project is set to wrap up on April 24. The municipality will review all the data collected from the program, including the feedback received in ridership surveys. The ridership numbers to date have met or exceeded initial projections.

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