As of Tuesday afternoon a petition against a 400 per cent increase in bus fare to staff housing at Base II had more than 500 signatures, over 300 from Fairmont Chateau Whistler staff, and more than 200 from Whistler-Blackcomb staff in a fewer number of days.
Starting on June 1 the cost of a bus fare to staff housing jumped from 50 cents to $2, the standard fare for riding the Whistler and Valley Express. Many believe that’s too much, given the short length of the trip and the fact that the residents in employee housing represent some of the resort’s lowest paid staff.
“Basically what happened is they raised the fare from 50 cents to $2, while all the other bus routes in Whistler only went up 50 cents,” said Craig Tremblay, who works at staff housing on behalf of the Chateau. “For a trip up the hill? Now a round trip to get groceries is $4, which we think is unfair. Right now many people are walking it, but it’s not an option to walk up the snow during the winter, especially if you’re carrying groceries or it’s three in the morning. And that road is a safety concern, I’ve seen cars hit those barriers in the winter time. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to walk up that road after it snows.”
Tremblay is researching the issue, and has been told that a decision was made by the municipality that it wasn’t fair to ask taxpayers and other riders to subsidize the service. He will make a case otherwise at the Whistler Chamber of Commerce meeting in January.
Meanwhile he says some staff members from the Chateau are purchasing monthly bus passes for $55, which is about three times what they used to pay in a month to ride the staff bus. He also questioned money spent on new bus shelters that could have been used to subsidize the service for staff.
Tremblay says a 50-cent increase is reasonable, on par with other increases, and most people he’s spoken to would pay a dollar for what amounts to a five minute trip up the hill. Some people go back and forth a few times a day, and are currently paying more than $4.
“The message I’m going to try to get out at the meeting is that staff housing benefits the whole village, the people who work for us also work for other businesses in the village,” he said. “It’s important to remember that these are front line staff and workers that are crucial, and contribute to the success of the resort.”
According to Emma DalSanto, Traffic Demand Coordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the fare change was made as a matter of fairness. She pointed out that a fare from White Gold or Brio to the village, a similar distance to staff housing, is $2.
“When (the RMOW) looked at it, it was unfair,” she said. “People were being charged less than people that were going basically the same distance.”
She says there is a possibility that businesses could subsidize passes for workers if they choose.
Whistler-Blackcomb was surprised to learn of the fare increase, says Brian Good, General Manager of Employee Experience, and they have been lobbying to see the subsidy restored or the fares reduced.
“We’re still after that, but we understand the other side of the coin as well,” he said.
In the meantime, he says they’ve worked with DalSanto to promote discounted passes for Club Shred members. Under the program Whistler-Blackcomb has 200 30-day passes per month to sell at $47, $8 less than retail. As well, they can help employees obtain six-month passes for $220, or $60 less than retail, and 12-month passes for $405, or $80 less.
Good did not have statistics, but says the passes have been selling well as more employees learn about the program.
“It’s fairly new for us and it takes people a while to grasp the concept and get on the bus, so to speak,” he said.
Bus delays a temporary issue
The Whistler and Valley Express has gotten a number of complaints recently regarding late service, which DalSanto says was the result of highway construction, which wrapped up last Friday, as well as a decision by B.C. Transit to phase in the winter schedule later this year. Normally the winter schedule would start for opening weekend, but this year the schedule is being phased in, with the Creekside Express bus starting in October, the Village Shuttle running on opening weekend, and the rest of the winter schedule launching on Dec. 10.
“One of the reasons buses have been late is passenger loads,” she said. “With the new buses arriving this month B.C. Transit said we wouldn’t have enough buses to run the full schedule until Dec. 10, so we pulled back the schedule until later.”
The good news is that the first of a fleet of 21 new diesel buses, which are larger than existing buses, could hit the road as early as this Friday. The buses are currently being winterized and outfitted with snow tires, and will likely be put on the busy Whistler Creek route first to handle riders.
“These 40-foot buses are larger than other buses in the fleet, and considerably larger than the shorter blue buses we have in service,” said DalSanto. “That will relieve some of the pressure until the winter schedule is phased in next week.”