Squamish commuter bus to expire Sept. 30 

No transit service between Whistler and Squamish


A year ago, Surinder Singh Mann would stand alongside 15 other people waiting for the Squamish commuter bus to arrive at the Valleycliffe General Store.

On the night of Wednesday, July 20 he was the only one waiting for the bus.

A steep increase in bus fares in November has sharply affected the ridership on Squamish-Whistler commuter bus.

Mann works at a Whistler hotel that funds the pass and said he would have never been able to afford the pass on his own. He would have done what his friends are doing: taking cars to work or frantically trying to arrange car rides every day - all the while hoping against hope that someone would do something to reduce the fares so they could use the commuter service again.

They were hoping in vain.

"The commuter bus service to Whistler will be terminated effective September 30, 2011," District of Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner said.

"Riders should plan for the termination of the service."

Gardner said the district is exploring alternative transportation options with BC Transit and others but did not elaborate on what those alternatives could be.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss that at this time," he said.

Devinder Sidhu had no such inhibitions as she talked about her desperate need for commuter bus service. Sidhu's story is shared by more than 150 people who have signed a petition they plan to present to Mayor Gardner.

Sidhu started commuting on the bus when it was started in 2004, following a gruesome accident on the highway that left seven people dead. The bus was an economical alternative to the car and it slowly attracted a big ridership, she said.

"There were people who had to stand on the bus for 45 minutes, but they still took the bus rather than the car," Sidhu said.

Bus driver Paramjeet Sidhu (no relation to Devinder) said the bus was so popular a supervisor would stand at the Garibaldi Highlands stop just to regulate the crowds.

But things changed abruptly in September 2010 when Whistler announced it would pull its share of funding to the bus. In November the fares increased.

The cash fare increased from $5 to $8 per ride, a book of 10 tickets went from $45 to $72 a monthly pass that used to cost $145 went up to $232.

The sudden fare increase of $87 was the beginning of the end for the commuter bus service, say riders. It was no longer a viable option to travel by bus.

A commuter bus driver who didn't give his name said after the November fare increase there were times when there were just five people on the early morning bus to Whistler.

Devinder Sidhu hasn't taken the bus since the fare increase. She tries to hitch a ride with friends or takes her own car to work.

"I know many women who take a car to Whistler alone. How's that good for the environment, for anything? We need the commuter bus."

After Whistler reluctantly funded the bus until March, Squamish council negotiated a contract with BC Transit to keep the bus running until September, hoping that BC Transit would come with a plan in July. No plan materialized as the deadline approaches.

"The District of Squamish continued funding for six more months to allow BC Transit to explore efficiencies. That effort was unsuccessful," Mayor Gardner said.

Makhan Singh Khubbar is making a lot of effort these days. To stay awake.

After working a long ten hour night shift at a Whistler hotel, he commutes back to Squamish in his car in the morning. He prefers to give people a ride as a way of ensuring he doesn't fall asleep.

"The fare hike killed the commuter bus... Now, I hope it doesn't kill me," he said, indulging in some gallows humour.




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