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Whistler hires lobbyist on transit issue



For the first time ever the municipality has hired a lobbyist as it tries to convince B.C. Transit to buy new natural gas buses for the resort.

Already the investment, which is tallying $6,000 a month, is showing results, said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.

Where B.C. Transit had said it wasn’t interested in purchasing the natural gas buses, it is now back at the discussion table.

“We’ve been able to extend the discussion at least,” said the mayor.

“We went through the normal channels and didn’t feel we were making any progress.”

The Vancouver-based lobbyist was hired earlier this year to work with the municipality internally on developing policies and strategies as well as gather information from B.C. Transit and the provincial government on its energy policies and to relay that information to the municipality.

The municipality’s goal is to transition its whole fleet from diesel to natural gas.

There are several reasons for that, explained Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services at the municipality.

“Compared to diesel, and compared to new technology of diesel, there’s a reduction of greenhouse gases we estimate by 23 per cent… That’s a significant reduction,” he said.

In addition to the reduction in GHG, Barnett said there are significant health benefits moving to natural gas compared to diesel.

“It’s quite staggering… in terms of toxicity,” he said.

The third reason is that there is a natural gas pipeline coming to Whistler.

“The more natural gas used by things like the transit buses, then the lower the overall cost is to the ratepayers in Whistler. So their energy cost decreases by about five per cent for heating their homes,” said Barnett.

However, natural gas buses cost more up front, although the municipality’s analysis shows the long-term operational costs are lower than traditional buses and so the costs even out over the lifespan of the vehicles.

Whistler’s transit fleet is 25 buses strong right now. It is expected to grow an additional five to seven buses with the addition of the athletes’ village neighbourhood and other projects.

In 2009 Whistler is getting 20 new hydrogen buses for a five-year pilot project associated with the 2010 Winter Games. And so, it would be looking to get five new natural gas buses now and 20 buses in 2014.

B.C. Transit currently does not have any natural gas buses in their fleet. B.C. Transit has put out an order for new buses, which does not eliminate the possibility of natural gas. A decision is expected to be made in the coming months.

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