The Squamish Reporter

Published: July 22, 2011.
Merely an year ago, Surinder Singh Mann would stand along 15 other people waiting for the Squamish commuter bus to arrive at the Valleycliffe General Store.On the night of Wednesday, July 20, he was the only one waiting for the bus.A steep increase in bus fare in November plummeted the ridership on Squamish-Whistler commuter bus.Mann works at a hotel which funds the pass, or he would have never been able to afford the pass. He would have done what his friends are doing: Taking cars to work or frantically trying arrange car rides every day. And hoping against hope that the someone would do something to reduce the fares so they could use the commuter service again. They were hoping in vain.

“The commuter bus service to Whistler will be terminated effective September 30, 2011,” Mayor Greg Gardner informed the Reporter.“Riders should plan for the termination of the service,” he said.Gardner said the District of Squamish is exploring alternative transportation options with BC Transit and others, but did not elaborate on what those alternatives could be.“I’m not at liberty to discuss that at this time,” he said. Devinder Sidhu had no such inhibitions as she talked about her desperate need for commuter bus service. Sidhu’s story is shared by more than 150 people who have now signed a petition they soon plan to give to Mayor Gardner.Sidhu started commuting on the bus since it was started in 2004, after a gruesome accident on the highway left seven people dead. The bus was a economical option to the car and it slowly attracted a big ridership, she said.“There were people who had to stand in the bus for 45 minutes, but they still took the bus rather than the car,” Sidhu said. A local bus driver Paramjeet Sidhu (no relation to Devinder) said the bus was so popular a supervisor would stand at the Garibaldi Highlands stop just to regulate the crowds.But things changed abruptly in September last year when Whistler announced it will pull its share of funding to the bus. Then, it increased the fare in November .The cash fare increase from $5 to $8 per ride, a book of 10 tickets went from $45 to $72 and worst of all, monthly pass that used to cost $145 now cost $232. The sudden fare increase of $87 was the beginning of the end for the commuter bus service. It was no longer a viable option to travel by bus.

A commuter bus driver, who didn’t give his name for fear of BC Transit, said after the November fare increase, there were times when there were no more than five people on the early morning bus to Whistler. Devinder Sidhu hasn’t taken the bus since the fare increase. She tries to hitch a ride with friends now, but she has to take her own car to work sometimes. “I know many women who take a car to Whistler alone. How’s that good for the environment, for anything. We need the commuter bus.” After Whistler reluctantly funded the bus until March, Squamish council negotiated a contract with BC Transit to keep the bus running until September, hoping meanwhile that BC Transit would come with a plan in July, which turned out to nothing more than just smoke and mirrors. “The District of Squamish continued funding for six more months to allow BC Transit to explore efficiencies. That effort was unsuccessful,” Mayor Gardner said. Makhan Singh Khubbar is making a lot of effort these days. To stay awake. After working a long ten hour night shift at a Whistler hotel, he commutes back to Squamish in his car in the morning. He prefers to give people a ride as a way of ensuring he doesn’t fall asleep.“The fare hike killed the commuter bus…Now, I hope it doesn’t kill me,” he said, indulging in some gallows humour.