Whistler bus users will see an additional 2,000 annual-service hours implemented this winter, following a monitoring period that identified the top priorities for transit expansion.
BC Transit launched a monitoring program last winter that tracked ridership data, as well as online and onboard passenger survey responses. The monitoring program was a result of an agreement signed between the municipality and BC Transit in November, whereby $175,000 in refurbishment costs related to 12 Dennis DART buses that had previously operated in Whistler would be reallocated to transit service expansion elsewhere in BC. Prior to that, the RMOW was still required to pay off the refurbishment fees until July 2015. BC Transit then committed its $153,000 share of the refurbishment costs to fund expanded service in Whistler, as per their operating cost-sharing agreement with the municipality.
The majority of the additional service hours, 1,350, will go towards improving service reliability and addressing overcrowding on resort buses. An estimated 200 hours will be implemented to improve service to and from Emerald during midday periods this winter, as well as an additional 300 service hours for the creation of a 3 a.m. northbound trip from the Gondola Transit Exchange in the Village. Another 150 hours this winter will facilitate the introduction of earlier service from Emerald to improve connections with the Village.
The monitoring report, which acts as a follow-up to a 2011 service review that noted a 19-per-cent reduction in annual service hours that year, also found the need to address issues with service regularity for Village shuttle buses.
The RMOW's transportation demand management coordinator Emma DalSanto said transit staff will work to make the Village shuttles “more reliable and usable for customers” this winter so they can expect to see a bus “every 15 or 10 minutes.”
In order to meet the new service demands during the peak winter season, Whistler Transit will need to expand its fleet of 23 buses by two. The cost for the additional vehicles will come out of the $175,000 refurbishment fees.
Transit staff will also add two extra glass-enclosed bus shelters, the locations of which will be determined in the near future, although ridership figures pointed to Cheakamus Lake Road at Highway 99 and Legacy Way at Mount Fee Road as priority locations for shelter installation.
Council's appointed member to the municipal Transit Advisory Management Committee (TMAC) Jack Crompton said users have also noted a need for a restructuring of Whistler's transit fare system, which reflected the group's findings during last winter's monitoring period.
“A lot of the feedback we received really matched the data collection,” he said. “We got customer complaints about pay structure and then we didn't have as many people come and buy as many bus tickets as they used to.”
He added that TMAC is currently reviewing ways in which the fare system can be simplified, although DalSanto said there will be no changes to the existing magnetic swipe card system already in place.
Coun. Andrée Janyk suggested implementing a reloadable card system for transit users similar to the electronic fare card used in Vancouver. DalSanto explained that a 2010 report by BC Transit found that the costs of installing such a program at that time would be prohibitive, and the current magnetic swipe cards will be in use for at least another four years.