Emerald-Function express bus not yet an option 

Last week, BC Transit presented to council its intentions for route expansion in Whistler. Johann van Schaik, BC Transit's regional transit manager South Coast, discussed the expansion of Route 1 into Cheakamus Crossing and renaming it Games Express, improving the frequency of service on Route 2 and the possible restructuring or cancellation of Route 24.

But there was no mention in the presentation of an Emerald-to-Function express bus, a service that has been discussed in previous presentations to council, and a service that both council and members of the community have expressed great interest in.

"There is a bunch of work that needs to be done for us to be able to, with confidence, put forward a service proposal that makes sense," van Schaik told Pique . "Until such time, it is a little bit on the difficult side just to say let's do this or let's do that. Let's rather first get our ducks in a row."

BC Transit has launched a review of the Whistler bus service, the first since the system was set up 20 years ago, and part of BC Transit's evaluation of all its partner communities' transit systems. They had committed to working with Whistler throughout 2012-2013 but following the Olympics Whistler council requested that BC Transit bump the evaluation up to this year.

Part of this process is figuring out what new routes, if any, are needed and a lot more work needs to be done to identify exactly what levels of service are required. As for a north-south highway express bus, BC Transit's planning staff will need to figure out exactly how that would operate - whether it would travel along the highway only or would pull into the village and if it didn't pull into the village, what the implications of that would be.

At the Nov. 2 council meeting, Councillor Ralph Forsyth asked van Schaik if, in conjunction with a pre-planning process, BC Transit could run a two-week pilot project for the Emerald-Function bus. Van Schaik said this is now being looked at but there are two problems with this scenario. First, two weeks is not enough time for people to get used to a new transit route.

"People aren't going to make a change to the way they travel just for a two week period, I don't think," he said. "If it needs to be a pilot project, it most definitely needs to be for a longer period."

Second, to test the project in winter is challenging because the increased service during the season means all available busses are tied up in regular service. During peak hours, there are about 25 buses running.

"Our planning staff need to look at this thing in detail to look at what the options are and what is going to provide the best transit choices for people," van Schaik said.

He added that BC Transit will "have a far better handle" on what service is needed after they conduct the origin destination surveys in early 2011. The plan is to expand service, providing the vehicles are there, that would give the most benefit to the system as a whole.

"We've got to go through a process of prioritizing what we put forward in terms of expansion, because I think at the end of the day what we want to make sure is Whistler gets the best bang for its buck," he said.

The transit review will take about a year to complete before the community will see any major changes to service. Emma Dal Santo, traffic demand management coordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, said one year is a realistic timeframe to usher in the major changes that BC Transit may want to implement, though it's still too early to tell what those changes will be. Dal Santo said the process includes gathering all the data and analyzing it, planning schedules and coordinating all three partners - the RMOW, BC Transit and Whistler Transit.

"It really depends on how major the changes are," Dal Santo said. "What they're saying is realistically, changes can definitely be implemented by next winter. But say, for example, they say that our entire system needs to be changed and we need different busses - and this is just way out there - but say that we went to a whole bunch of small busses instead of large busses, that would be a major change, in that we would need a new fleet and all that. That would probably take even longer than next winter because you'd need new busses and to get new busses you need to go out and buy them."

While the majority of service changes are at least a year away, smaller changes will be rolled out for the 2011 spring-summer season.

Winter service will begin on Nov. 25.




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