Starting on Jan. 3, the Whistler and Valley Express, the Squamish Transit System and B.C. Transit will be offering commuter buses between Squamish and Whistler. The pilot project, which has been in the works for several years, will see buses from Squamish to Whistler to reflect peak travel times for resort employees, especially hotel workers.
According to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, the number of people commuting from Squamish to Whistler grew by 62 per cent over the past five years, to approximately 1,000 people a day.
More commuter buses between Squamish and Whistler have been a topic of discussion in the wake of two serious accidents on Highway 99 involving resort employees commuting to and from Whistler. In a horrific crash last January seven people, including five resort employees, were killed in a head-on collision with another vehicle upon returning to Squamish after the night shift.
Brian Barnett, the general manager of engineering and public works, says safety was certainly a factor in the decision to launch a pilot project, but it wasnt the only reason.
"Certainly highway safety is a part of it, but also its consistent with our goal of trying to get cars off the roads," he said. "We know from highway monitoring that a large number of vehicles belong to employees, so it will provide a transit service that will help to reduce traffic and air quality concerns we have."
Surveys among staff have also indicated that there is strong support for the commuter bus, which could eliminate over 31,000 car trips during the pilot period.
Greyhound currently offers six round trips through the day for $10.50 each way (or $56 for a book of 10 tickets), but a large number of staff continue to drive, sometimes after working a night shift. In a report presented to council in June, it was noted that the price of Greyhound service, $5.60 to $10.50 a trip, was a barrier for many people using the service; at that price it was almost as cost-effective to drive or carpool.
The commuter bus would be available for between $3 and $4 per trip, with three round trips a day. The first round-trip bus would arrive in Whistler around 8 a.m., followed by an afternoon bus at either 2:30 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. and a night bus at around 11:p.m. the exact details are still being confirmed, as transit officials met with hotel managers on Thursday. The bus would likely stop in Creekside on the way to and from the village, but would avoid all other stops.
"Weve been working with the hotel sector to make sure (the bus service) meets all the demands for their employees, including provisions for day shifts, afternoon shifts and night shifts," explained Barnett.