Free weekend transit to return

Sea to Sky Gondola once again ponies up for free weekend and holiday bus trips this summer

Freeloaders will once again be welcome on weekends and holidays this summer, as the District of Squamish intends to renew its free ride service.

Also, the municipality is expected to expand its service on Route 5 by adding stops at the Squamish Adventure Centre and possibly at Chances Casino.

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On Nov. 26, councillors voted unanimously in favour of two motions.

The first directed staff to work with BC Transit on expanding the Route 5 service in June 2020.

The second renews free local transit service on Saturdays, Sundays and statutory holidays from June 13 to Sept. 7, though that is subject to updating the agreement for financial support from the Sea to Sky Gondola.

This past summer, the gondola paid the bills for the lost revenue on those days, which was expected to cost about $13,500, according to a preliminary estimate.

Kirby Brown, the gondola’s general manager, said the company would be willing to foot the bill once more for this upcoming year.

“We see supporting public transit is [a] classic win-win,” wrote Brown, in an email to The Chief.

“We’re able to help our staff and passholders visit the gondola while building the ridership our transit services need to be viable. Of course, we’re also reducing the number of cars on the road and in our parking lot.”

During the free rides this summer, ridership increased by close to 20% compared to similar periods in the months just before it, according to BC Transit data.

In addition to giving the green light to adding stops to Chances and the Adventure Centre, council asked staff to consider several things.

Mayor Karen Elliott said that Chances Casino should contribute money to cover the cost of adding a stop to its location, as it will benefit from this arrangement.

She said that the gondola has set a high bar for local companies to follow.

At one point during the discussion, Elliott suggested that perhaps the bus stop at Chances shouldn’t be created if the casino doesn’t pay up.

Staff replied they hadn’t asked the casino if it was willing to contribute money, but said they would bring it up with the company.

Coun. Chris Pettingill urged staff to look into creating a year-round service for the Squamish Nation’s Totem Hall.

Coun. Doug Race noted that new developments were slated for Britannia Beach and Furry Creek and suggested the service could extend further south to serve Britannia.

Councillors asked if adding a stop at Alice Lake was a possibility but staff said that the turnarounds in that area were too small for buses.

A staff report said BC Parks has previously expressed some interest in transit in that area, but hasn’t created a turnaround.

There is also no space for a turnaround at Brohm Lake, the report said.

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