The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was part of an independent panel’s review of the B.C. Transit system, released last week, that made 18 recommendations to improve provincial and municipal transit operations.
The panel met with 40 local governments, including Whistler’s, and received 30 written submissions from municipalities throughout the review.
The primary concerns raised surrounded the level of consultation between municipal governments and B.C. Transit, the Crown-operated agency responsible for coordinating public transportation in 58 communities outside of Metro Vancouver.
Local governments “have legitimate concerns about the state of their relationship with B.C. Transit, including the nature of the partnership to deliver service, the level of communications and the degree of accountability,” the report stated.
Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden called the review “a very good first step to recognize the importance of the role that local government plays.”
The mayor, who was recently denied a position on B.C. Transit’s board of directors, admitted, “there has been a lack of consultation [with RMOW] on some of the big ticket capital items” in the past, including the construction of Whistler’s transit facility.
“The construction of the bus depot was done without consultation. It was a very expensive capital addition to transit here in Whistler, for which we are paying 53 per cent,” she said. Most municipal governments in B.C. cover the majority of transit spending, with the province kicking in the remaining 47 per cent.
In July, it was announced that the zoning of Whistler’s underused transit facility would be brought under council discussion in an effort to allow private operators to use it at market rates thus generating revenue for the service.
One of the recommendations that Whistler provided the three-person panel – a concern echoed by other B.C. municipalities – was to ensure that provincial and local governments operated on the same fiscal schedule, based on a calendar year.
“It was always a challenge to try and get our budget set for transit when we were out of sync for the financial year,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
For her part, the mayor recognized that Whistler’s public transit system has room to improve.
“We need to get the financial structure reworked so we can give back some service hours that we’ve cut,” she said.
Service hours in Whistler dropped 15 per cent over the past year compared to 2010-11 after council directed staff in 2010 to work with B.C. Transit to review the system.
The drop in service didn’t match an 11 per cent decline in ridership in the past year, a trend that Coun. Jack Crompton, who sits on the Transit Management Advisory Committee, saw as a good sign.
“We think that is a positive because it shows we reduced service but maintained more ridership that we cut,” he said during an interview earlier this month.
In the hopes of “returning some of the service hours that we’ve lost,” Crompton and the advisory committee asked the province to forgive a $540,000 debt the municipality incurred for the Dennis Dart buses, so the money could be used to improve the local transit system.
The buses were retired from service before being retrofitted and given to another community.
The RMOW plans to provide an official response to the B.C. Transit Independent Review Panel in September, ahead of the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting.