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Squamish to Whistler commuter service funding won't come from hotels

Commuter bus still in jeopardy as Whistler funding runs out Dec. 31

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It seems unlikely that the hotels in Whistler will help fund the Whistler-Squamish commuter bus service.

Human resource managers of major hotels met on Oct. 5 to discuss the possibility of helping to fund the service but decided this is a problem the local governments need to resolve.

"I don't think there's an appetite for the businesses to subsidize the service," said Roger Soane, general manager of Fairmont Chateau Whistler and chair of Tourism Whistler.

"I hope it doesn't get removed, but I don't think there's anywhere in the Lower Mainland where businesses subsidize a transit service. I mean, don't we do that with taxes? I don't think you will see the hotel community step up and say, 'OK, we need to subsidize this service,'" he said.

In September, Whistler council approved a fare increase for the commuter service from $5 to $8 per ride beginning Nov. 1 (a book of 10 tickets went from $45 to $72, and a monthly pass will cost $232 from $145). But the municipality, which currently subsidizes the service from a special fund, only has money for the bus until the end of 2010. Council will consider the possibility of extending the service into 2011 as it reviews its budget.

Soane said that many of the hotels provide travel allowances for employees. The Fairmont offers $8.50 per day to cover travel expenses, but that starting in November, that will cover only one way for Squamish residents commuting to Whistler. The absence on this service will cause some hardship on the Whistler employees who use it, but Soane said it's too early to tell what hardship's hotels and other businesses may face.

Either way, Soane said this is a trial that probably shouldn't be tested.

"We shouldn't be taking away public transport, we should be enhancing it," Soane said. "The majority of public transport in the world today is subsidized one way, shape or form. I suppose it all comes down to who should be paying the subsidies. Is it Squamish, is it Whistler?"

Squamish council has directed staff to investigate the issue and dialogue with Whistler, with a view to maintaining the service or finding an alternative service.

"There wasn't any dialogue about it (in council) but there are other ways to get people to work," said Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner. "One would be a ride sharing program, but those are ideas that are going to be discussed. We understand that Whistler has concerns about funding the program, obviously, so we'd like to understand those concerns and hopefully work with Whistler to resolve the issue."

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