Late buses must pay a price 

Council rejects transit-operating agreement without service standards

If a bus is going to be late or not show up at all, then Whistler Transit must pay the price.

That was the message from council this week as it dug in its heels in its request to BC Transit for what Mayor Ken Melamed calls "incentive clauses."

If the transit company cannot meet certain service standards, then it should face penalties.

"For people to be waiting an hour for a bus to come by... is unacceptable," said the mayor, who has been keeping track of all the late buses and missed buses. "And there should be a repercussion that is experienced by Whistler Transit."

This comes at a time when bus fares have gone up, ridership has remained relatively flat and the global cost for transit in Whistler has risen sharply.

On Tuesday council refused to pass its Annual Operating Agreement (AOA) with Whistler Transit in an effort to get BC Transit to sit up and take notice.

The mayor said that the incentive clauses are something council has been requesting for a long time.

"This has been a work in progress for as long as we've been on council," he said.

"Enough is enough. My patience is done."

Councillor Ralph Forsyth instigated the drastic action at the council table.

"My patience was done the last time we brought it up," he said. "I'll never approve an operating agreement until we see that.

"Call their bluff," he urged council. "Get it done. It's embarrassing to me."

His comments were enough to convince a majority. In addition to Forsyth, the mayor, and Councillor Grant Lamont, Councillor Eckhard Zeidler voted in favour of rejecting the AOA, raising his hand with the comment:

"Let's have some fun."

The vote drew a frustrated sigh from Chief Administrative Officer Bill Barratt. Some under the table comments about lack of insurance in the absence of an AOA followed but it is not clear if the delay to approve the AOA will impact service.

Council is meeting with transit officials by the end of the month and is hoping for some resolution to this issue of "incentive clauses" at that time.

The AOA is the legal term sheet outlining the conditions of service.

Council was to pass the AOA for the April 1 to September 31 time line, which detailed the maximum cost of the service in those six months as almost $5 million. The municipal share of that is more than $2 million.

The term sheet highlights the sharp increase in transit costs this year.

Those rising costs are one of the reasons why council has also asked BC Transit to look at ways to recoup money. The concept is to use the transit facility as a value added service to outside bus carriers with things such as bus parking, washing and a place for minor repairs.

"It's a service that's badly needed in Whistler," said Harry Kim, general manager of environmental services for the municipality.

Councillor Ralph Forsyth questioned why the municipality was interested in getting into this kind of business when the neighbouring property is in the process of being rezoned for the same purposes.

"If and when the neighbouring property wants to provide that, they can compete," said the mayor.

That landowner Steve Bayly said he welcomes the competition.

"I'd be delighted by the competition as long as they subject themselves to the same rules and standards that they impose on others," he said.

Council is waiting to hear back from the province and BC Transit before it can move ahead. This week the municipality said the project would require a rezoning, contrary to what they believed last week.

Council has also directed staff to prepare a letter to BC Transit in response to several concerns about the night lighting from the new transit facility on the highway between Nesters and Meadow Park.

"I think this is a legitimate concern," said Mayor Ken Melamed, after reading a letter of complaint.

In addition, three reviews are now underway: the Whistler Transit Service Review, the Whistler Transit System Financial Audit and the Whistler Transit Maintenance Facility.

The transit review will be presented at the May 17 council meeting.




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