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Squamish-Whistler bus likely to return this winter

Council to vote on plan Monday



The Resort Municipality of Whistler and District of Squamish are putting together the final components of an agreement that could see the return of a commuter bus service between Whistler and Squamish this winter.

The details are still being worked out, as well as the schedules and pricing, but the bus is a priority for both governments.

"After the success of the pilot earlier this year, we’ve been in talks with Squamish and B.C. Transit and other stakeholders to be able to offer the service again this winter," said Brian Barnett, the general manager of engineering and public works for the RMOW.

"We’re still working on the concept of a regional transit authority for the Sea to Sky region, but in the meantime we decided that it was in our interest to find a way to be able to continue to offer this service. We don’t have all the details yet but what we can say is that so far it’s looking positive, there’s a lot of support and a lot of people want it to happen."

According to Barnett the current budget includes $80,000 for the service this year and next. Squamish would need to match funds. Whether B.C. Transit will make a contribution, or Whistler hotels, which employ many of the commuting workers, is yet to be seen. B.C. Transit funded last winter’s pilot project by $40,000, while the Whistler Hotel Association contributed $10,000.

It has also been suggested that Whistler’s share of the federal gas tax rebate, estimated at $170,000 per year for the next five years, could help to subsidize the service.

The pilot project kicked off on Jan. 3 and lasted 112 days. The service cost an estimated $247,000, and carried an average of 233 riders per day on four scheduled return trips, which were frequently filled to capacity.

The pilot project was heavily subsidized. The actual cost per ride worked out to $9.25, while customers paid $3 to $4 for tickets and passes.

Whether the service will go up in cost this winter to recover more costs has yet to be decided.

The next step, according to Barnett, is to win the approval of Whistler council.

"We’ll be bringing the plans to council on Monday," he said. "The fact it is in the budget shows that there is already lot of support for the idea… the next step after that would be to work out the details, something we would like to have done fairly soon to be ready to go for winter."