Sea to Sky elected officials are underscoring the need for a regional transportation system in light of Greyhound Canada's Monday, July 9 announcement that it will effectively cease operations in Western Canada this fall.
Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that while there are a number of private carriers in the corridor, none offer the "commuter-type" services that Greyhound has traditionally been known for.
The others are "focused primarily on visitors travelling through the corridor, and they have schedules that change with the season and so on," explained Wilhelm-Morden.
"Greyhound provided more of that commuter-type service. For that now to disappear is problematic."
According to a Greyhound Canada press release, the iconic bus service has been bleeding customers in recent years. "Ridership has dropped nearly 41 (per cent) across the country since 2010 within a changing and increasingly challenging transportation environment," said Stuart Kendrick, senior vice president of Greyhound Canada in the release. The changes will take effect as of Oct. 31.
Whistler, however, has not been caught "flat-footed" by the Greyhound announcement, said Wilhelm-Morden. Along with Pemberton, Lil'wat Nation, the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD), and Squamish, the municipality recently signed onto a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on regional transit.
The MOU outlines a number of principles for the parties to work towards, such as an equitable funding model for the system and fair distribution of costs among benefitting communities. It also sets out ridership levels for the first few years of operation.
In the first year, these include six round-trips per day on the Mount Currie/Pemberton to Whistler route (two more than current operations), and six round-trips per weekday, plus four round-trips per weekend day, between Whistler, Squamish and Metro Vancouver.
The service is expected to cost $3.6 million a year to begin with, and grow to $6.1 million annually after three years.
Importantly, the MOU also sets out that the regional transit system will be governed under a commission-type structure made up of Sea to Sky communities rather than operating under the auspice of the SLRD, explained Wilhelm-Morden.
What remains to be seen, however, is how the venture will be funded.
"What we don't want is to divert funds used from our municipal service into a regional service," said Wilhelm-Morden, adding that Whistler is looking at a number of different options, including a gas tax.
"There may be part of property taxes that will go into transit taxes, but we're going to be obviously very careful about that."
Wilhelm-Morden said that once Squamish Nation signs onto the MOU, something that is expected, the partner communities will meet with the minister of transportation to discuss funding.
"Once we have (Squamish signed on), we will be meeting with the minister of transportation to discuss our suggested governance model and funding criteria, hopefully with a view to having regional transit in place in the corridor by 2019," she said.
Village of Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman said that the loss of Greyhound means it is "more important than ever" to establish regional transit, adding that Pemberton was already approaching the issue with a sense of urgency.
"I think there already was urgency. I think we need it," said Richman of regional transit.
"It will add so much value—socially, ecologically, economically—(having) a good transit system in our corridor."
The bus service levels laid out in the MOU are starting numbers, said Richman.
"We're talking about six (buses) up and down between each community. I think we need eight sooner than later, and that number will increase over the years," he said.
Richman added that buses are often full in the mornings and a late-night option is desperately needed. "For instance, service workers in Whistler who need to get home after an evening shift—they're out of luck," he said.
Richman is looking forward to discussions with B.C.'s new NDP government regarding funding.
"They mentioned in their election campaign that they were supporting transit around the province (and that they) recognize the importance of it. We want to understand what that means. Is there a shift in carbon-tax allotments? Maybe that will be going towards it," he said.
Squamish is of the same mind as its corridor partners.
"The Greyhound news further highlights the need to move this issue forward with the provincial government proactively," said Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman in a statement to Pique.