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RMOW working towards transportation hub

Central facility would streamline visitors' experience

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It's no secret the traveller's experience in Whistler can be marred by the absence of a designated transportation hub. Whistler Connections frequently picks up and drops off visitors in the rain, in the snow, at sidewalks in the dark and other conditions aren't ideal for the client.

Bill Murray, president of Whistler Connections, said that a transportation hub that can streamline all tourist traffic is "well over due."

"We need to make that arrival and departure experience on a bus more user-friendly than it is right now," he said.

The municipality is now considering building such a facility, with preliminary work to begin in 2011.

Jan Jansen, general manager of resort experience for the RMOW, said staff has set out $7.2 million in Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding in the Five-Year Financial PlanĀ for the facility, with $200,000 earmarked for 2011 for the preliminary feasibility study and background business plan .

"At this point what has been recognized in the past is the need for improved transportation services with respect to the bus system having a terminus or a place to drop passengers," he said.

If funding is approved, the facility will streamline bus service from Vancouver, the airport and other outlying areas. It will be a central area to drop passengers off and pick them up while shuttles take them the rest of the way to their hotels. Jansen said car rental services, check-in and check-out, information services, change rooms and storage areas are being considered as part of the hub.

This is one of several steps the municipality is taking toward streamlining the arrival process for visitors. They're also working with the province toward legislation that would require check in counters at most properties, something that has been an issue for visitors for years.

The hub project is still in its infancy and Jansen said the next step is to figure out what the facility will look like, what exactly it will offer, what the financial implications are and form a plan from there.

At the 2011 budget open house on Nov. 19, the "amenity hub" was included in a list of possible projects to be funded through the RMI funds - formerly referred to as the four per cent hotel tax - that is provided annually to 14 B.C. municipalities to enhance their tourism economy.

The Event Festivals and Animation program the RMOW is currently developing would also be funded by RMI. It may include funding for street performers and the Rainbow Theatre renovation for the Whistler Film Festival, among other projects.

Lisa Landry, the RMOW's general manager of economic viability, said the municipality does not yet have approval for any of the RMI projects. Once the draft list is approved by the province the municipality will have a confirmed grant amount and can then decide what projects will receive the funding.

The province has given Whistler, which receives between 65 and 70 per cent of all RMI funding, over $27 million since 2007 for such tourism-related projects as the High Performance Centre and Whistler Olympic Plaza.

Jansen said the municipality would need a new building for the amenity hub to provide the level of service the RMOW is aiming for. The land between day lots 3 and 4, where the impound lot is currently located, is the "top candidate" for the facility, though the land use would require approval from the province.

Murray said that the Gateway Loop has served as a de facto transportation hub for years but it was never intended to manage the amount of traffic Whistler sees on a day-to-day basis.

"I think everybody had envisioned for a long time that there would be a transportation centre, we just haven't gotten around to it yet," he said.

Jansen said the Gateway Loop has been looked at in the past for expansion into the amenity hub but the RMOW engineering department has determined that the space is too limited.

"(The Gateway Loop) has simply outgrown its capacity," Jansen said. "When you start combining buses with hotel shuttles, taxis, even car rentals and other things that have to be decided yet, it will take a bit of space. So we've got a space that sits in amongst transportation structure, if the province is agreeable. And we are in the floodplain so there are a number of considerations there."

David Holmes, president of Perimeter Bus service, said that a single location for arrivals and departures would "without a doubt" lower his company's fuel costs, as well as travel costs for the visitor. "But it comes back to what (they) would be charging for this particular service," he said.

"I mean, if it's a reasonable cost, then most definitely, but if it's going to be $20 per person to go from the hub to the individual properties then that wouldn't be lowering the cost."

 

 

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