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Back of the bus Riders hopping on Whistler Transit buses Thursday morning had to drop an extra quarter in the fare box — marking a new, expanded bus service for the car crazy Whistler Valley. Previously, the Whistler Transit Service has been plagued by service delays, a schedule filled with holes and an ill-deserved bad reputation. The winter schedule, which came into effect yesterday and runs until April 13, contains an adult fare increase to $1.50. The increase will be used to offset the costs of increasing frequency on a majority of routes — not to subsidize the free village shuttle, says Rod MacIntosh of the Whistler Transit. "People are seeing a fare increase because they are also going to see an increase in service," says MacIntosh. Three new buses have been added, expanding the Whistler Transit fleet to nine buses. Staff levels have been increased from 16 to 25 seasonal workers. The annual cost of the expansion is $395,000, with BC Transit kicking in $185,000. BC Transit and the municipality share the capital cost of the bus system, with BC Transit providing 47 per cent and the municipality 53 per cent. Whistler Transit is contracted to operate the buses. With 700,000 riders a year, Whistler Transit is among the top transit system performers in BC. The expanded bus service includes a new route to Tapley's Farm, increased frequency to Alpine Meadows, Emerald Estates and Function Junction and the implementation of a 50 cent fare for riders heading to Blackcomb Staff Housing — which used to be a free trip. The free village shuttle will also increase in frequency and change routing to better service skiers trying to get off Blackcomb and up to the Benchlands — a trip that last winter involved transferring buses and more often than not proved to be more of a hassle than walking to the Benchlands. While all of the changes went into effect yesterday, Whistler Transit drivers may not be able to test the new routes to their full potential because the new pedestrian overpass between Village Centre and Village North remains unfinished. With the buses unable to get down Village Gate Boulevard to Blackcomb Way, the Fitzsimmons Bus Loop may have to remain closed. According to Councillor Bill Murray, chair of the transportation committee, the expanded bus service is one of the first steps toward increasing the efficiency and reliability of local bus service and a big step toward making it easier for people to leave their cars at home. Earlier this summer, B.C. Transit offered to expand the Whistler bus fleet, but the offer surprised municipal council. After balking at the offer and proposed fare increase, council did an about face after realizing the necessity of increasing bus service and making routes more frequent and convenient. "We have got to strive for a bus service that is user friendly," Murray says. "Rather than making it harder for people to take the bus, these changes make it easier." Murray says in order to cut down on air pollution and alleviate some of Whistler’s chronic traffic congestion, people now have to make a decision to give the bus a try. "With the new schedules and buses our transit system is a very viable option," he says. While 30 per cent of the local population say they use the bus, 10 per cent of the local population take the bus to work on a regular basis, according to the survey. Whistler Transit ridership and revenues are on the rise, according to RMOW figures. In October, Whistler Transit’s operating revenues were $29,456, up from $20,870 in October of 1994, with 32,225 people taking the bus this October — an increase of more than 10,000 riders from the previous year. The results from the Whistler Statistical Survey show Whistler residents definitely like to drive. Of the 4,800 people that answered the question regarding mode of travel 54 per cent of them drive to work. Only 2.6 per cent of that number are passengers, meaning 95 per cent of the cars driving to and from work on Whistler's roads only contain one person. According to the survey, Whistler residents have approximately 5 per cent more cars per thousand than the Canadian average.

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