Questions surrounding B.C. Transit’s business plan for potential private commercial operations have delayed an application to rezone Whistler’s bus facility.
Transit Management Advisory Committee (TMAC) member Bill Murray raised concerns during a public hearing earlier this month, saying B.C. Transit’s business case outlining the potential for commercial operations at the bus facility lacks necessary information.
“From a TMAC point of view, we still haven’t proven that it will work operationally or financially,” said Murray, in an interview with The Question this week. “We just felt that there were a lot of details missing in the actual business case to move ahead with an overall plan.”
The rezoning would allow for the facility to house private bus operators, potentially providing the municipality with $17,000 in revenue for the first year, according to a staff report to council.
The report went on to state: “B.C. Transit’s Commercial Services Business Case presents a number of different possible future revenue opportunities. The high-side net revenue projections range beyond $200,000 per year, if all business opportunities identified at this site are pursued. There are, of course, uncertainties going forward. One or more of the identified opportunities may not evolve as originally foreseen.”
A copy of the Commercial Services Business Case, however, was not provided to council as part of the rezoning application or to The Question by B.C. Transit upon request. A spokesperson indicated the report is not public, but it has been reviewed by TMAC, including Murray.
Murray spoke out at the public hearing last Tuesday (Sept. 4), preventing council from considering a third reading of the amendment bylaw, as per municipal policy.
The underutilized facility allows for the operation of up to 50 buses, well above Whistler Transit’s current operating fleet of 23.
Murray feels that the provincial staffer tasked with providing the business case to TMAC, “doesn’t really understand the nature of the market that he’s trying to get into this facility.”
“I actually think Whistler needs a facility that might service out of town coaches,” said Murray, president of professional transportation company, Whistler Connection. “But how many are there of them, what rate they’ll pay and will that work operationally at the B.C. Transit site? None of those questions have been answered.”
The report listed 15 potential clients for the facility, although 13 of them are private tour operators, according to Murray, which would not use the site since they typically hire their buses from charter companies.
“How a bus gets looked after is not in (tour operators’) interest at all. They don’t worry about that, they worry about the tourist side of it,” he said. “How can you make revenue projections when you actually haven’t surveyed any of the market?”
Revenue projections listed in B.C. Transit’s report were partially based on the patronage of one client, Pacific Coach Lines, which has requested a one-year lease of the facility, worth an estimated $40,000 in parking fees per year. This, according to Murray, prompted council to move ahead with initial readings of the rezoning amendment at the prospect of “easy money.”
“All we’ve proven is that there is one tenant that, for at least one year, wants to park their buses there,” he said. “If we’re going to go through this whole rezoning process, maybe we should really be sure that this is not going to be a money-loser if we lose that tenant down the road.”
The site, which was famously referred to by former Coun. Eckhard Zeidler as “garage-mahal,” opened in 2010 without consultation between the province and the municipality, according to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
“It was a very expensive capital addition to transit here in Whistler, for which we are paying 53 per cent,” she said last month. The municipality pays for the majority of transit spending, with the province paying the remaining 47 per cent.
TMAC recommended that council delay moving ahead on rezoning the site until all remaining questions have been answered and another business case is completed.
“Whether my comments will give (council) cause for pause, I’m not sure,” said Murray. “I hope they do consider some of these things and do a proper business plan before moving ahead, but that’s their call.”