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Transit ridership up



Service doing more with resources

Last fall Scott Pass and Whistler Transit "tweaked" the winter bus schedule to put more buses when and where they were needed, and to create a more regular service for some areas.

According to the annual Whistler Transit Winter Ridership Count, which ran from Dec. 23 of 2001 to Jan. 5, 2002, ridership numbers were up 8 per cent over last year’s numbers.

"Almost everything increased," says Pass. "We though it would be down after all the apocalyptic predictions after Sept. 11, but while the bookings were slow at first, they did come in at the last minute."

Last year was the first that Whistler Transit didn’t expand service or the number of hours its buses would be on the road.

"We tweaked the schedule for efficiency, took hours from somewhere that wasn’t as crucial and put them where we felt they were needed."

For example, Whistler Transit cut the Whistler Express service, which used to run every 15 minutes until 11 p.m., to 7:30 p.m. and put the extra hours towards the Alpine Meadows and Emerald services, and to beef up late night service to everywhere in the village.

The Emerald Estates ridership increased by 17 per cent and the Alpine Meadows ridership increased by 16 per cent. The Alpine/Emerald service was down by 3 per cent, but Pass credits that drop to an increase in the other services.

At the same time, ridership on the Creekside Express buses is comparable to last year’s numbers.

The Whistler Creek services posted the biggest ridership gain at 27 per cent, which he credits to Whistler-Blackcomb staff housing in Tamarisk Area, Whistler Housing Authority projects in Creekside, and the Legends complex.

"My hunch with Creekside is that I wouldn’t be surprised if ridership continued to grow 15 per cent or 20 per cent a year for the next few years," says Pass. Ridership will be spurred by the growth in the Spring Creek area, and the completion of the Beaver Flats housing project and the First Tracks hotel.

The only route where numbers were significantly down was for Staff Housing, where numbers were off by 10 per cent. Pass attributes the lower ridership to the fact that there are fewer staff in residence this year, compared to last year.

During the winter ridership count, 233,605 people rode Valley Transit, or 16,687 per day. In one day, with a fleet of 19 buses, Whistler transit bused 22,434 people.

The service does plan to expand down the road, "but with things as they are in the province, we don’t expect anything this year," says Pass. The next expansion will likely take place in 2003 or 2004.

"We expect ridership to continue to increase, maybe not in the double digits as in past years but definitely in the single digits. More people are discovering our service, guests and residents, and we are an important part of the municipality’s sustainability initiative, the TAG (Transportation Advisory Group) plan, and looking ahead to the Olympics as well," says Pass.

The service is already one of the top performers in the province, with fare boxes recouping about 58 per cent of the total cost of operating the service. Other funding partners, include the province, through B.C. Transit, and the municipality, which provides funds from the hotel tax.

The service also plans to continue to reach out to other communities. Ridership to and from Pemberton is up 26 per cent, and a feasibility study on a bus link to Squamish will be released once it’s been reviewed by councils in both communities.

Pass says he will continue to tweak the service in the future, and to make it easier for drivers to stick to the schedule.

"The traffic, the weather conditions, the large numbers of riders, all of these things have an impact on our schedules. Our drivers are already doing a great job handling all of these conditions, but we can be creative and make things better for everybody," says Pass.

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