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Transit review panel gets mixed reaction from mayor

Three-person panel to submit report to province by the end of August

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Whistler's mayor has mixed feelings about the news that the province will be reviewing BC Transit with an aim to improving the system.

On the one hand, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden applauds the move that will look at the system in detail — but she also expressed a little disappointment this week that the review doesn't appear to tackle the serious issue of looking for new funding sources.

"That's a pretty significant issue," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"Under-funding of transit is a problem across this province, well, across this country, and it's got to be dealt with."

In the last few years, Whistler has had to claw back its service, cutting some routes and increasing fares in order to balance the budget. Even then, it came up short.

"We're just moving in the wrong direction," said the mayor.

Whistler and other towns played a critical role in taking the issue to the province and asking for help during the last council's term.

As a result, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Blair Lekstrom handpicked a three-person independent review panel. BC Transit partners with municipalities to provide public transportation services, including buses.

"I think it's fair to say that we're enthusiastic about it (the review panel)," said Councillor Jack Crompton, who is the council representative on transit.

"I've found, in my short time on council, that the majority of the decisions are made in Victoria, which is a difficult situation when you're trying to find efficiencies and offer a cost-effective service."

One thing Crompton is excited about is seeing more decision-making in the municipalities' hands. "We want more than just someone to listen to us," said Crompton. "We want the ability to leverage and make decisions and be part of making sure that our service is cost effective."

He said the panel ties in to what's happening in Whistler with the recent addition of two community members — Scott Pass and Bill Murray — to the Transit Management Committee.

"I think we're set up well for success," said Crompton.

The provincial review panel is made up of Chris Trumpy, Catherine Holt and John King, chosen for expertise in finance, transit and municipal affairs.

"BC Transit provides good transit service, although there is always room to improve," said Lekstrom. "I am optimistic the independent BC Transit Review will help make transit even better."

The panel will focus on four key areas over the next several months:

• Operations and performance — examining the efficiency and effectiveness of transit services;

• Governance;

• Funding relationships between transit and local governments, and;

• Communications and consultation between BC Transit and local governments.

The panel will submit a report to government by the end of August. The report will be made public and the province will consider all recommendations.

Whistler takes liquor plea to UBCM

Whistler has readied its message to the provincial government on the changes it wants to see on B.C.'s liquor laws.

It has approved an official council resolution that will be sent to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which will hold its annual conference in Whistler this May, and then to the Union of BC Municipalities, for its September meeting.

The resolution asks that the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) allow qualified commercial caterers to be eligible for a liquor license, as well as allow existing licensed establishments to be eligible for a catering endorsement to their license.

The resolution also asks that the LCLB allow for certain Special Occasion Licensed events to let people walk around freely with alcohol when minors are present.

Planner Frank Savage said the liquor branch is very aware of the situation and is looking at its laws.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden also suggested that the resolution could be sent to every municipality in B.C. to gain more support for the changes.

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