Transit changes on the horizon 

Plans to go public in open houses

The future could be grim for Whistler bus riders if more money can't be found for transit.

Council got its first real glimpse of the potential impacts coming to its transit system in the wake of rising costs when BC Transit officials presented their detailed service review at Tuesday's meeting. It's not a complete picture at present as more financial reviews are underway, but it is a red flag for potential big changes on the horizon.

If the Resort Municipality of Whistler doesn't put any more money toward transit, service hours could drop more than half of today's levels (from almost 75,000 hours to 30,000 hours), passenger levels could plummet (from 3.1 million to 1.6 million) and the peak fleet could tumble from 26 buses to 8.

Under the current service levels, the RMOW is $1.7 million short to fund transit.

"Transit is expensive," said Acting Mayor Ralph Forsyth. "And it's only getting more expensive."

That needs to be communicated honestly and frankly to the community, he added.

Staff is proposing public open houses to gauge community feedback on the potential changes.

"Not everyone is going to be happy," admitted Councillor Eckhard Zeidler. "Some ox's will be gored.

"We can't continue the way we've been. It just doesn't work."

Some of the routes on the chopping block are service into Spring Creek, which would mean only having a northbound stop for the neighbourhood, and cutting service along Blueberry Drive and along Alta Lake Road due to extremely low ridership and the high cost per ride.

Alta Lake Road resident Connie Griffiths expressed her concern about potentially losing the bus service on her road at the outset of the council meeting.

"I'm concerned with the transit report that we're going to hear tonight," said Griffiths.

"We have no bus now.

"I'm speaking on behalf of other neighbours and as a parent."

Before making any major changes, however, council has authorized staff to move ahead with public consultation. A date has not yet been set for that meeting.

Also, staff will be bringing forward the findings of the Whistler Transit System Financial Review and the Whistler Transit Maintenance Facility Audit, both of which could impact the numbers in the service review.

"These are not hard fixed costs," Councillor Chris Quinlan pointed out at the meeting.

"There's potential for savings," he added.

Still, the hard fact at this point in time is if council wants to follow the "minimally acceptable" service levels presented in the report; it will have to find another $800,000 to fund it.

Some other potential changes to the service include: shortening the service by two hours and operating from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. due to low ridership, eliminating the Route # 3 bus to Emerald and providing Emerald and Rainbow with an hourly extension of the new Village Connector bus, and bringing in a different weekday and weekend schedule for the Whistler Village and Whistler Creek buses due to ridership increases on the weekends.

Like other councillors, Quinlan complimented BC Transit and staff on the comprehensive work.

"It's a lot of work and I look forward to the public consultation on it," he said.

In response to a question from Councillor Grant Lamont, BC Transit confirmed it plans to do service reviews like this every three years to ensure efficiencies in its systems.

Staff will be coming back to council with the results of the financial reviews and how they may impact service.

A report is set to come forward at the June 21 meeting. Once staff has a more complete picture of the transit system, council will be able to make the most informed decisions about service levels and the financial impacts.

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