When officials signed off on the redevelopment of the Gateway Loop last month, there was plenty of concern at the council table over the project's $6.8-million price tag.
On Feb. 21, council awarded two contracts for the reconstruction of the village loop, the first point of arrival for a significant number of guests travelling by bus to Whistler. Plans include eight bus bays, expected to double Whistler's coach-service capacity, a 526-square-metre canopy structure, a permanent wall and gate installed at the taxi loop; and improved pedestrian routes and lighting at the site.
While council agreed on the need to improve the arrival experience, some balked at the project's higher-than-expected cost. It passed in a 5 to 2 vote.
To lessen the burden on taxpayers, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is exploring the idea of a fee-for-service model that would fall on bus operators using the site.
Pique spoke with a handful of coach companies that provide service to Whistler to gauge their appetite for the potential funding model, and opinions were divided.
Greyhound spokeswoman Lanesha Gipson said the company is "open to further discussions" on a fee-for-service model, and would consider increasing service to the resort depending on demand.
Abeer Assad, president of Epic Rides, took a clearer stance on the issue.
"I don't think any company would be willing to pay a fee, especially when dropping off," she said. "Even in Vancouver, you don't do that, so I'm not sure why Whistler would — especially when Whistler already collects a lot of fees in different ways."
But Coun. Jack Crompton, CEO of online shuttle-booking service Ridebooker, said it's normal for bus companies to pay to access public transportation hubs.
"Operators pay to use public facilities all over North America," he said.
Crompton, who voted against the proposal because he believes it didn't provide enough value at its current cost, thinks a fee-for-service model is simply the cost of doing business for shuttle operators.
"The market is enormous," he said, adding that business for bus companies travelling from Vancouver to Whistler is "way up" this year. "So there may be small incremental cost increases, but I don't perceive it as a deterrent."
With the project in the early stages, no details have come to light on what exactly the funding model could look like. Crompton explained that fees are structured "differently in different contexts," and could be charged per use, based on ridership, or involve a flat rental rate.
At the March 21 regular meeting of council, officials approved the issuance of a development permit for the proposed Gateway Loop project.
Phase 1 work will begin in April and is expected for completion in mid-June. Regional bus operations will be relocated to Day Lot 3 during that period. Installation of the roof structure is slated to begin in September and plans are to have it finished by the end of October.