Residents petition for expanded bus service

Games-time offerings boost interest, but funding remains major hurdle

After getting a taste of vastly enhanced transit services between Pemberton and Whistler during the Olympic period in February, Pemberton-area resident seem to have a craving for more. A petition launched by a pair of locals, calling for an hourly bus service running 24 hours a day between Whistler and Pemberton, has garnered some 1,400 signatures after about two weeks of having copies in local stores and gas stations.

Craig McCurry and Cara Jenner started the petition, entitled "We Want the Bus Back," after they used the enhanced bus services each day to travel to work during the Olympics, and then they felt the need continued beyond the termination of the expanded offerings.

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The petition calls for a regular run of one bus per hour, 24 hours a day, between Pemberton and Whistler.

"This service is necessary for commuters, whether they be coming home late from work or shopping and events on the weekends, and is extremely important to a community like ours," the petition's introduction states.

Within 18 hours after the first copies of the petition were placed in stores and gas stations in Pemberton and Mount Currie, the motion had garnered 200 signatures, McCurry said. On Tuesday (March 23), he estimated that about 1,400 people have signed on so far to express their support for the idea.

"It's amazing the response we're getting, it's absolutely amazing," McCurry said, marvelling at the number of signatures collected so far, and the impassioned comments that some have included with their names.

"So many people want it back, it's crazy," he said, adding that he felt the February services were well used, based on the rides he took and groups he observed waiting to be picked up. "Every single time I was on the bus, it was packed."

McCurry said that when the enhanced transit services ended, everyone he spoke with kept talking about the buses.

Having worked in Whistler as a landscape engineer and bartender for 12-plus years, and having lived in Pemberton for about nine years, McCurry said he has found it can be difficult to go back and forth between Pemberton and Whistler at night.

He is effusive in listing the positives he would expect to see from expanding transit offerings, saying it could help cut down on drinking and driving as well as hitchhiking, while supporting environmentally friendly practices, attracting more residents to Pemberton, increasing freedom for families and helping local businesses.

He said he hoped the petition would kick-start conversations about transit, and he plans to pursue discussions with transit officials and take the petition and its signatures to an upcoming Village of Pemberton council meeting.

Sunny Rankin, a local resident who signed a copy of the petition at AG Foods, said the transit issue is her "biggest thing right now," and she thinks it's a hot topic around town.

"I'm really passionate about this," she said, adding that she felt the Olympic bus service was "so convenient and wonderful."

As one-half of a service-industry couple with her husband, who works nights in Whistler, and with three children, Rankin feels it's essential for her family to have a second vehicle as a "commuter car," but that is "bleeding us dry."

Rankin estimates that having more commuting options could help her family save a lot of money to afford the costs of living here, and make their lifestyle more environmentally friendly. Though she was initially skeptical about whether the expanded Olympic service could live up to its billing, she came to miss it when March 1 rolled around, and she thinks the ridership would be there if the transit options were expanded again.

B.C. Transit officials marvelled at the Pemberton community's uptake of the expanded services offered in February 2010, as community members purchased more than 1,000 of the $50 passes to use the Pemberton connector routes for the month.

The petition calls on the Village of Pemberton to provide the regular hourly bus service. The Village funds part of the existing transit services along with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and Mount Currie Band, while B.C. Transit pays more than half of the costs to operate the service, Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy said on Tuesday.

"Any transit improvements would be a partnership," Sturdy said. An increase in service is possible if B.C. Transit comes to the table with additional funds, he added, but operating dollars in the province of B.C. are stretched thin at the moment.

Sturdy said that as someone who rode the February buses and "very much enjoyed and appreciated the access to the service for the period of the Olympics," he found that he "can't say enough good things about it." He said he's "fully in support of improving the service, recognizing that obviously there are monetary constraints, some of which the Village can perhaps try and influence."

However, he added, "the Village isn't in a position to direct that it happen," since it is a multi-party service.

While the Olympic service was a boon to the community, Sturdy said, the questions that remain are the issues of "how do we improve the service as it stands, and how do we pay for it?"

B.C. Transit is reviewing the Pemberton services, Sturdy said, and he hopes that will produce some valuable information and suggestions. He said he has also spoken with B.C. Transit leaders to make them aware Pemberton officials support their constituents' increased expectations for service.

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