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Squamish commuter bus fares increase in November

Council voted to increase single bus fares between Squamish and Whistler from $5 to $8, to boost the price of a book of 10 from $45 to $72; and hike monthly passes from $1145 to $232. The increase, effective Nov.

Council voted to increase single bus fares between Squamish and Whistler from $5 to $8, to boost the price of a book of 10 from $45 to $72; and hike monthly passes from $1145 to $232.

The increase, effective Nov. 1, will only cover part of the increase in operating costs.

Council agreed to fund the commuter line, which carries 75-100 people between Squamish and Whistler daily, until the end of 2010. It will consider 2011 funding during the 2011 budget process that starts this fall.

Councillor Chris Quinlan, who put forward the motion, said this provides council a timeline to engage both the business community - which has not spoken up about the impacts the service has had on Whistler business - and the District of Squamish with how they should proceed in 2011.

"At the end of the day, let's get this thing to a regional transportation program," Quinlan said.

The service was started as a seasonal operation in 2005 after seven Squamish commuters died in a head-on collision on Highway 99. It has been a jointly funded project by Squamish, The Resort Municipality of Whistler and BC Transit. It was extended to a year-round service in 2008, when it was also agreed that Whistler council would fund its share until the end of 2010.

Staff gave a presentation at Tuesday night's council meeting, asking for the increase in fares for the 2010/2011 fiscal year to accommodate past levels of service.

Mayor Ken Melamed asked that council scrap the service altogether before the winter season, and was the only person to oppose the motion. He said a preferable solution would be to work toward a regional bus service, but even without that there are other options for Squamish residents that don't have to be subsidized by Whistler taxpayers - namely, the Greyhound bus service.

"What has changed since we instigated (this) is we have provided considerable employee and affordable housing," he said. "I don't see rationalization to fund this through a depleting fund."

Ted Milner supported raising the fares and extending service only until the end of January.

"I think that we have to go back to some first principles, and that's that you can't expect to house 100 per cent of your employees in your town," he said. He added it's reasonable to expect people to live outside the town where they work, which is an issue that council needs to work toward fixing.

"It's unacceptable to make people drive their cars to and from work," he said.


Dairy Queen patio expansion approved

In your weekly blizzard report: yes, Whistler is getting a Dairy Queen. And yes they will have a patio along the Village Stroll.

Council unanimously agreed to the proposal, which will allow the joint Dairy Queen and Orange Julius to fill half the space currently occupied by Activity Central in the Tyndall Stone Lodge. It will also allow a patio to encroach municipality property.

The council report stated that the "patio license and encroachment agreement will enable increased activity and animation" to occur along the stroll. However, several councillors expressed concern that the Dairy Queen might not be an "authentic Whistler experience."

"This is the least authentic Whistler experience," said Councillor Chris Quinlan, adding that despite the "brilliant marketing" of the store's owners to place the ice cream store across from the Olympic Plaza playground,  "there's something wrong with this."

Councillor Tom Thomson wondered if the "proprietors would make this a Whistler Dairy Queen, not just a regular Dairy Queen," something McDonald's has done in places around the world to embrace the location's culture.

The agreement states that Dairy Queen's furniture cannot be emblazoned with corporate logos and must fit in with the overall aesthetic of Whistler Village. Staff said they would be in discussions with the proprietors over their choice of furniture.

Councillor Ralph Forsyth said he was "happy to support" the proposal.

"These are local businessmen who bought a franchise and are investing their money in our town, that's a good thing and we're a partner with business. It will provide animation to the village," he said.


Library services are up

After the first full year in the new building, the Whistler Public Library has seen increases in almost all avenues of operation.

The collection has increased 10 per cent from 2008 to 2009 for a total of 52,868 items, while circulation increased by 34 per cent. More than 170,000 items were check out and foot traffic increased by 20 per cent, to 297,488.

Library Director Lauren Stara told council in her presentation Tuesday night that both revenues and expenditures are down, due primarily to impacts of donations and expenses related to the building's construction.

She said that library-generated revenue went up over 2008, from $56,983 to $72,982.

"We have one of the finest libraries in the province, I truly believe that, and I would like to thank council for helping to achieve that," said Alex Nicoll, chair of the board of trustees of the library.

"Libraries are free, one of the few free services left in the world, and we hope to keep it that way."