If you're bummed out by the Sea to Sky's transportation model, you better suck it up: it's not changing any time soon.
At the Dec. 7 council meeting, the RMOW's transportation demand management planner, Emma Dal Santo, outlined for council the available options for improving transit in Whistler and in the Sea to Sky corridor. She ended by stating that the current municipal government-led model is the best model for Whistler at this time.
"It gives us the most decision-making authority," Dal Santo told Pique . "We set fares and we set service levels, so the decisions that are made locally and affect things like taxes and local fares, they're made by council, so it's direct accountability."
Council has direct decision-making power over fares and has kept them comparatively low for 12 years. Council effectively acts as the system's board of directors. In addition to determining fares it approves all service plans and accounts for revenue and maintains all transit facilities, such as bus stops, exchanges, shelters and benches. On top of that, the RMOW's relationship with BC Transit has been quite positive since the system was set up in 1991 and Dal Santo said they've been very responsive to Whistler's needs.
Another option Dal Santo outlined was to create a Sea to Sky transit authority or to join the pre-existing transit authority, Translink.
"The idea of creating our own transit authority, the Sea to Sky Transit Authority, although it is theoretically a possibility it's really not an option, and that's one thing that keeps coming out in the general public and to various people," she said.
Nor is joining Translink an option either. She said that when going to regional-focused models, the local decision-making power gets removed.
"It gets diluted quite quickly," she said.
The best way to solve the region's transportation issues, between Pemberton and Squamish, is to work within the current model and create partnerships with the other communities.
"The models that we have are very good and very functional," she said.
At present, commuting between municipalities is complicated. While BC Transit is a partner in all transportation systems in the corridor, the RMOW and the District of Squamish currently share the Whistler-Squamish commuter funding. To the north, the Pemberton Valley commuter system is funded by the SLRD, Mount Currie and Pemberton and administered by SLRD staff - meaning there is no fluidity between the three towns and making the transit commute between Pemberton and Squamish difficult.
Whistler council has expressed the need to work out a model that is fair to all communities. Mayor Ken Melamed has said the best option is working out a regional transportation model through the SLRD.
"Our council is saying that we need to have a consistent model," Dal Santo said. "It's basically looking to BC Transit and saying which model here works best, we can't have different models in the same area."
Whistler can join Translink if it wants to. In 2007 , the province changed legislation and changed the name of the Translink-regulated region from Greater Vancouver Regional Transit Authority to the South Coast BC Transportation Authority. This would allow Sea to Sky communities to join Translink at some point in the future if they wished.
"It's all about creating plans about where we want to go in the future to meet the provincial transit plan," which the government put together to reduce emissions and increase transit ridership, Dal Santo said.
"It's future oriented. I don't think that we've been formally asked if we want to join Translink. I think it was more put out there saying 20, 30 years from now just because the way development is, it makes sense that these areas are joined economically, it makes sense that they have the ability to be joined" by a common transportation system.
She added that Whistler has not formally considered the option. Municipal staff has looked over the "general stuff" and decided it was best to stick with the current model. Prices would become more in line with city prices ($2.50 per ride vs. $2 per ride), decision-making authority over local transportation issues would become diminished, and Whistler would be tied to a host of issues currently haunting Translink.
"If you join Translink, you join all of Translink, so you take on the responsibility and the liabilities of the Pattullo Bridge, the Knight Street Bridge," Dal Santo said. "Both of them are getting close to the end of life and they're going to have to be replaced."