After weeks of writing letters to local newspapers and governments, Squamish resident Murray Gamble was asked to appear before the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District on Monday.
Gamble, a maintenance worker at the Meadow Park Sports Centre who commutes back and forth to his home in Squamish almost every day, had been writing "letters to the editor" for weeks expressing concern about the possible cancellation of the Squamish Commuter bus, which transports Whistler employees who live out of town.
Gamble began writing the letters after the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) at a September meeting approved a fare increase from $5 to $8 for a single trip. The decision came after discussion in which council noted that funding for the bus, which comes out of a special fund and not tax revenue, would only be available until the end of 2010.
Funds for the commuter came from a developer for future transit improvements and were sitting in a holding account until the idea for a bus to shuttle people between Squamish and Whistler came forward.
An agreement between the RMOW and BC Transit maintains the service, funding it at a proportion of 53/47, respectively. That 53 per cent is split evenly between Squamish and Whistler, but the agreement is between Whistler and BC Transit. If Whistler were to maintain its current level of funding, it would have to dig into its taxpayers' pockets. Without doing that it is scheduled to end on March 31.
Gamble has since written letters arguing for a regional transit model in order to maintain the commuter service, which he claims could be combined with the Pemberton Commuter and operate them both as a regional transit service. He presented this very proposal to the regional board on Monday.
Speaking to Pique in an email on Tuesday, he said the SLRD is talking about regional transit and is likely to bring it up at its monthly meeting in February.
"The main thing I got out of it was recognition that elected representatives and staff are indeed looking at the issue of regional transit," Gamble wrote. "Most of them are also aware of the irony that while they plan the future of regional transit we are losing the Squamish Commuter. They are scheduled to talk about regional transit in February and I see my role as making sure they think about it before they arrive at the meeting."
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, who sits on the regional board as director for Pemberton, said Gamble gave a "thorough and interesting" presentation and that he has always enjoyed his correspondence, but added that no commitments were made at the meeting.
"He was talking about the opportunities to coordinate the different services in a way that provides better value and is more cost-effective," he said.
While the Squamish Commuter subsists on funding from Whistler, the Pemberton Commuter doesn't. The latter is paid entirely by the Village of Pemberton, the SLRD and BC Transit through an Annual Operating Agreement that allows the bus to make various stops in Whistler but it doesn't get any funding from the community there.
Asked how he feels that Whistler contributes to the Squamish Commuter and not the Pemberton bus, he said he's always wondered whether the valley could benefit off the same deal that Squamish has.
"I hope that we can develop a regional transit system here that allows us, not just to get to Squamish, but to Vancouver on a public bus system," Sturdy said. "Realistically, the future for Squamish is towards the south and more and more people will be commuting to Vancouver for employment."
As part of looking at regional transit, the SLRD is looking into a gas tax model similar to what exists in Metro Vancouver. There drivers have to pay a tax of 12 cents on every litre of gas they put into their cars and the money goes into public transit. In the Sea to Sky region, the price of gas is about the same, but there's no gas tax going into transit.
"We're essentially paying the tax already," Sturdy said. "We're just not paying it in a way that benefits transit."