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Squamish-Whistler transit pilot ends April 24

Successful service needs provincial approval for new funding source



A pilot project to test the viability of a Squamish-Whistler commuter bus service and a Sea to Sky transit system is being hailed as a success as it comes to an end. The last day of transit service between the two communities is Sunday, April 24.

Funding to get the service going again is being sought, but it will take time to enact the legislation.

The pilot project, which cost an estimated $247,000 and will have run for 112 days, carried an average of 233 riders each day, with several morning and evening buses between the communities filled to capacity.

The actual cost per ride will work out to $9.25, with customers paying $3 to $4 for tickets and passes. The pilot project also offered subsidized commuter passes to use the Greyhound service and an emergency ride home program.

According to data, about 98 per cent of riders were using the service to travel to and from work, with 86 per cent of riders using the system five or more days per week.

Riders that have unused tickets after April 24 will be able to get refunds after April 24.

According to Brian Barnett, the general manager of engineering and public works for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the pilot accomplished its goal.

"What we wanted to do with the pilot program was to prove the demand for transit in the corridor. We thought it would be a stronger argument for the provincial government to ask for a fuel tax and a transportation system if we could show that the service is highly successful," said Barnett.

The RMOW, District of Squamish, Village of Pemberton and First Nations have all indicated their support for creating a regional transportation system, which would be subsidized by a 3 cent per litre gas tax in the corridor.

"A regional transit system would need to be established and a fuel tax implemented, and to do that we need the approval from the provincial government," Barnett explained. "That takes a Major Legislative Amendment, and requests for (amendments) have to be submitted in August for consideration next year. We’re working to have an application for (an amendment) for this summer, but it’s still going to take some time to go through all the approvals."

B.C. Transit, the Crown corporation that funds transit services across the province, is also supportive in principle of a Sea to Sky Transit system. However, B.C. Transit won’t be able to officially support the concept until the application is completed and all of the details finalized.

Barnett acknowledged that a lot of people are going to be disappointed when the pilot service comes to an end next week.

"(At the beginning) we let the public know… that we were running the commuter to confirm the ridership numbers our surveys were indicating, and all along it was a pilot for the winter months," he said. "I want people to know we’re working hard to put the funding in place so we can re-launch (the service) as a permanent program.

"We would love to have this as a permanent service, but we just don’t have the funding in place at this time to do it."

The pilot project was mainly funded by the RMOW and District of Squamish, with each municipal government committing about $100,000 each. Other funding partners included B.C. Transit, which contributed a $40,000 grant, and the Whistler Hotel Association, which contributed $10,000.

Residents will still be able to travel between Squamish and Whistler.

• Greyhound offers 16 runs per day between Whistler and Squamish – contact 604-898-3914 in Squamish or 604-932-5031 in Whistler for the schedule.

• The Jack Bell Foundation offers carpooling and vanpools, as well as a new ride matching service. For more information call 1-888-380-RIDE (7433) or visit