For the first time in the Whistler and Valley Express almost 12 years, the transit service saw its overall ridership numbers drop slightly for the 2003-2004 fiscal year.
According to B.C. Transit, WAVE transported 2,871,713 riders in the 2002-2003 season, and just 2,803,986 in the last year, a 2.4 per cent decrease. Up to this year transit ridership has steadily grown every year, the percentage increase often in double digits.
According to WAVE manager Scott Pass, the lower numbers reflect a slower winter overall for Whistler.
"A 2.4 per cent reduction is not bad, especially when you consider how much everything in the village went down, starting with slower than usual months in December and January," said Pass. "Some business owners are saying business was down 15 to 20 per cent last winter, people werent working as much, rooms were empty in that light, our numbers are actually pretty good."
The lower numbers likely wont have any impact on service levels or plans to expand service, said Pass.
"This is one year. If it kept dropping for several years, you might see a change, but were already seeing numbers back up for the summer and were expecting a strong winter, so we should be back up to where we were in no time," he added.
This is the first time that WAVE has seen an annual decline in ridership. WAVE expected a drop in 2001-2002 season, in light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the global recession and the fact that 2000-01 was a record year for Whistler, but rider numbers continued to grow says Pass.
Whatever the reason for the decline, the most recent passenger count numbers are up significantly from last year. From July 24 to August 6, WAVE carried 72,362 people, an increase of 29 per cent over the past year.
The Village Shuttle saw the biggest share of that increase with 41 per cent more riders than last year. Emerald was second with 38 per cent more riders, Whistler Creek was up 27 per cent, the Tapleys connector was up 26 per cent and both Alpine/Emerald and Staff Housing routes were up 24 per cent.
B.C. Transit released their annual ridership numbers last week, citing an overall one per cent rider increase for all their municipal transit systems in the province, as well as a three per cent improvement in performance the average number of customers carried per hour of transit service.
"We are proud to be able to report increased ridership in a year that presented major funding and cost challenges for B.C. Transit and our partners, the local governments and operating companies," said B.C. Transit chair Greg Slocombe. "Even with sharp cost increases for fuel, insurance and vehicle maintenance we were able to maintain core transit services. We were able to achieve some excellent results through innovation and flexibility on the part of all partners, as well as the development of new community partnerships.
The Comox Valley and Prince George saw the largest ridership increases this past year, 28 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. Squamish saw ridership increase 11 per cent.