Squamish Commuter service gets six-month reprieve 

Transit advocate says extension is 'encouraging'

The District of Squamish has decided to extend the Squamish-Whistler Commuter bus service until the end of September.

It was originally scheduled to cease operations March 31, but Squamish council decided Tuesday to keep the buses on the road.

"This is very encouraging," said Murray Gamble, a Squamish resident who has spearheaded the campaign to extend the service.

"I'm pleased that I will be able to take the bus to work and this is a sign that they are taking transit seriously. Transit in general has a lot missing in the corridor and I think is a very welcome decision."

Gamble said the district has asked BC Transit to present a draft report by July 15, with plans to enhance local and bus service to Vancouver.

He added that a bus service to Vancouver would be a crucial step in developing a sustainable transport network in the corridor.

"The council seems to be quite serious about this," said Gamble.

In an earlier committee of the whole meeting, Squamish had decided to work with BC Transit, Jack Bell Ride Share, and private operators like Greyhound to renew the commuter service after Whistler pulls its share of funding.

Squamish councillors asked staff to bring all available options to the council before October with a goal of reviving the service before next winter.

It's likely that any continued service will be reduced, with fewer trips in the winter months, and some service being eliminated in the summer months or during the late or early hours.

Details are being worked out with BC Transit, but Brian Barnett, the district's general manager of engineering, gave an example of how the service might change.

"Instead of going to the Whistler Village, they will do a turnaround at Creekside, and that will shave 20 minutes of each end, which is quite meaningful," Barnett said.

The commuter bus, which makes eight trips, four in each direction, is a highly subsidized service, Barnett told council.

While the fare per commuter is $8, Barnett said, the actual cost to the district is $15. At 17. 4 per cent, the cost recovery for the Squamish-Whistler transit is one of the lowest in B.C., he said.

To continue the service for a year would amount to giving an annual subsidy of $1,500 to every commuter, Kevin Ramsay, the CAO of Squamish, informed the council.

"It will be a significant subsidy for a select group of residents in Squamish," Ramsay said.

The transit system is expensive due to the long travel time and the low number of bus stops, which doesn't allow more people to pump money into the system.

The Squamish-Whistler transit service was first launched as a pilot project in 2005, after a tragic accident resulted in the death of several community members who were travelling home after working a night shift in Whistler.

For the first few years, the service was offered only in winter months. But over the past three years transit was offered year round, with the cost being shared between Squamish and Whistler. Each contributed roughly $200,000 for the service.

In Nov. 2010, Whistler passed a motion to eliminate funding for the Squamish-Whistler transit service after March 31, 2011. Whistler also increased the fare to $8 from $5.

But Whistler's argument that Squamish should support the commuter service because it's used mostly by Squamish residents is being strongly refuted by commuters like Gamble.

Gamble said according to his informal survey, more than 20 per cent of people using the bus are Whistler residents.

"Since mid-October, I have been keeping a record of those on the bus with me," he said.

"On the 7:45 a.m. bus to Squamish, over 50 per cent of the passengers are from Whistler."




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