New buses scheduled for Whistler Transit system
By Andy Stonehouse
Whistler's efforts to boost the popularity of public transit have been a resounding success, in light of statistics that show the local bus system to be one of the best-used in the province.
As a result, local transportation planners have given the green light to boost the population at the Function Junction bus barn with four new high-tech, handicap-accessible buses.
According to numbers generated during BC Transit's annual performance summary, the local bus system carries the largest number of paid passengers per capita, produces the highest revenue per bus and enjoys the highest cost recovery of other local systems in the province — excepting Vancouver and Victoria's massive transit fleets.
Whistler Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, chair of the local transit management committee, said that solid ridership and excellent revenues are part of the reason for buying new buses and constantly modifying local transit offerings.
Wilhelm-Morden said Whistler Transit will be adding four new British-made buses in the spring and will be borrowing four other buses to put into service in the fall, until the custom-made numbers arrive.
"We'll have four ready in the fall to help boost the winter schedule, and we'll have four new low-floor buses ready in the spring, at which point the four loaners will be taken out of service," she said.
Linda Manheim, deputy municipal clerk and transit co-ordinator on the transit committee, said the new buses will be similar to those seen serving Handi-Dart routes in the Lower Mainland, although they will be modified to have two sets of doors for quicker loading and unloading of passengers. The buses can also "kneel" up to the curb to allow easier access for customers in wheelchairs.
The new buses will supplement Whistler Transit's fleet of 11 buses currently in service, including one newer bus which came on service earlier in the year. Several of the buses are used as spares.
Wilhelm-Morden said the new buses will likely be assigned to the community's busiest routes, including the free village shuttle.
"There's a possibility of adding a bus to the Creekside-Whistler Village route, as there are a lot of people down there using the service. There's also some thought of splitting the Alpine and Emerald run into two separate routes."
In addition to discussing the new buses at their most recent meeting, transit committee members also decided to hire a consultant to look into changing the paint job on the local buses to reflect a more "Whistler" look.
Wilhelm-Morden said riders don't have to worry about buses suddenly being painted with huge pictures of Shaquille O'Neal or cellular phones, like those in some cities. The consultant will be investigating some discrete colours but will still try to make them look a bit different than other BC Transit buses across the province.
BC Transit has also been asked to investigate the possibility of arranging scheduled public transit both in the village of Pemberton and between Pemberton and Whistler, although Wilhelm-Morden said that would pose some conflict to Maverick Coach Lines, which already offers limited service to Pemberton and Mount Currie.
"We like the idea of seamless service from Pemberton to Whistler, but it's not a simple as it would appear. BC Transit doesn't like doing long routes between communities, except for a few instances like the Vancouver to West Vancouver connection."
Wilhelm-Morden said the transit committee also pondered the idea of following the example of U.S. ski communities like Aspen, Vail and Mammoth and getting local businesses to help pay for bus services. In each of those American resorts, local bus service is free to riders but the costs are picked up by the local ski company.
"We haven't formalized anything through the committee, but we'd like to work toward a similar frequent free service in the community. There'd have to be significant cost-sharing with the local stakeholders. I think the writing is on the wall."
Compared to other transit systems in the Fraser Valley, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo and Prince George, Whistler buses carry the highest number of revenue passengers per bus per year, and the community has the largest fleet per capita of population. Whistler Transit also has the most number of riders per capita, the most rides per hour and produces the lowest operating costs per ride.