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Squamish commuter service "extremely important"

Chamber, Squamish council expect further discussions before final decision



A week after council raised fares for the Squamish-Whistler commuter bus service and questioned the value of extending the service into 2011, Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner said he was "surprised" Whistler made the decision without consulting Squamish council.

Gardner said that Squamish was not consulted on a fare increase previous to Whistler council considering it, though he said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed had told him personally that the Resort Municipality of Whistler might discontinue the service.

"Our expectation is that Whistler will discuss this with us," Gardner said. "I think, strictly speaking, the contract is with Whistler and BC Transit, however we've always been a funding partner since before the time BC Transit came on board."

Squamish council has yet to discuss the implications of the increased bus fare on Squamish residents who use it to commute to jobs in Whistler.

Last week, Whistler council passed a motion that would raise the bus fare from $5 to $8 until the end of 2010. Whistler also agreed to consider funding its share of the service in the new year as it worked its way through the 2011 budgeting process.

If the RMOW decides to cut its funding for the service, Gardner said it's unlikely that Squamish will fund the bus service alone.

"I think it unlikely that we would unilaterally fund the service," he said.

The bus service was a joint initiative started by the District of Squamish and the RMOW after seven Squamish commuters were killed in a head-on collision on Highway 99 in 2005. The two communities funded the service until BC Transit came on board to fund approximately 46 per cent. Whistler and Squamish split the remaining 54 per cent down the middle.

The RMOW had agreed in 2008 that it would only fund the service until the end of 2010, with the funding coming from a transportation reserve. Part of the motion passed last week to look into extending or discontinuing service into 2011 included consulting both Squamish and Whistler business owners to find out how they would be impacted.

Mayor Ken Melamed was opposed to the motion, stating he favoured a regional transportation service funded the same way as the Pemberton-Whistler bus service, rather than Whistler taxpayers subsidizing a bus route used primarily by Squamish residents.

Chamber of Commerce President Fiona Famulak said a significant number of Whistler employees used the bus service leading up to the Olympics, when the chamber last surveyed members to understand how many employees commute from Squamish.

"The commuter bus is extremely important to our businesses because many of our employees do live in either Pemberton or Squamish," she said. "I haven't had recent conversations about that but it sounds like the municipalities will be having conversations about that to see what their next steps are."

The chamber survey focused only on the need, so she could not comment on whether commuters were satisfied with the level of bus service. She said the bus is a form of transportation that is used extensively between Squamish and Whistler.

"We identified that there is a clear need for that to be used during the Games... My guess would be that the need is still there but that would be something we would have to confirm with our membership."

She said the municipality has not reached out to the Chamber of Commerce yet but said it's important there be communication before any decisions are made regarding funding and discontinuing service, so the municipality understands the impact on Whistler businesses.