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Pemberton wants Whistler to kick in for commuter bus

Regional transportation authority might be a solution but funding formula needed

Whistler should have a role in funding transit to Pemberton, according to politicians from the northern valley.

Susie Gimse, a councillor with the Village of Pemberton and director of Electoral Area C on the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, said in an interview last week that the Resort Municipality of Whistler ought to play a part in funding transportation between Whistler and Pemberton.

She said it just two days after the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District approved fare increases from $3 to $4.50 on the Pemberton-Whistler Commuter for adults and from $2 to $4 for seniors and students.

"I've always thought there's a responsibility here for Whistler," Gimse said. "Look at the schedule, it even stops three times in Whistler, it moves people around Whistler, but I mean, the service goes to Mount Currie, Pemberton.

"We are connecting the communities and Whistler is very clearly one of those communities."

The Pemberton Valley Transit System is operated as a partnership under BC Transit's Municipal Systems Program. Costs to run the system are split 53/47 between local governments and the Crown Corporation. The Village of Pemberton and the Mount Currie Band each fund 40 per cent of the local government portion; the SLRD funds 20 per cent.

The total cost to run the system in 2010 will be $480,000, up from $240,000 in 2005. The fare increases approved last week will help the local governments fund a projected 25 per cent of that cost.

Like Gimse, Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy wonders whether the RMOW could get in on funding a transit system that makes two stops in Whistler every morning during its winter schedule.

"I think we should all contribute to the cost of regional transit, for sure," he said in an interview. "The arguments that are made that Whistler doesn't need the rest of the corridor, and shouldn't be participating in regional transit, doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed said in a Friday interview that the RMOW doesn't yet have the money to share in funding transit services to Pemberton.

"What I think is the policy we should follow is equal funding in both services, given that we don't have the budget to fund the Squamish service," he said. "At this time, it's not conceivable that we could participate in the Pemberton service.

"My understanding is it was servicing the needs of Pemberton residents, some of whom want to go to the Meadow Park Sports Centre, but if they choose to stop that service, that's a conversation they can have with BC Transit."

Sturdy wonders whether Whistler could participate as part of a regional transportation authority that would see costs shared by communities including Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish.

The costs, he said, shouldn't come through property taxes but through a gas tax, similar to an arrangement that exists in Metro Vancouver, where 12 cents on every litre goes to Translink, the transportation authority.

"I think it's interesting to note that there should be between an 11 cent and 13 cent differential in the cost of gasoline between the regional district and Metro Vancouver," Sturdy said. "Yet there is no difference, the price is the same in Squamish or Pemberton, probably a little higher.

"I believe there's essentially a transit tax currently in place, however that differential is going to the gas companies."

Asked about a regional transit authority, Melamed said it would have to engage the input of Whistler taxpayers and find an adequate funding source. He added that it's been discussed for at least the last five years, the entire time that he's served on the regional district's board of directors.

"If you want to do some guesstimations, the two services right now (Pemberton and Squamish commuters) are a total of about $1.5 million," he said. "Two things would have to happen. We'd have to find half of that, then convince BC Transit to fund the other half."

"They're partners, and the decisions about transit definitely happen in consultation and can't go forward without the approval of BC Transit."