New public transit routes will connect Vancouver to Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton

Public consultations begin next month on public transit service from Metro Vancouver all the way to Pemberton. Grace Ke reports.

You could soon be taking a public transit bus from Metro Vancouver to Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.

BC Transit is looking at the possibility of connecting Vancouver and the Sea-to-Sky corridor with public transit service. The areas are currently only connected by private bus companies and seasonal float plane routes.

The inter-regional transit network is part of BC Transit’s Sea-to-Sky Transit Future Plan project which also hopes to improve transportation within the Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton communities. Routes are currently only available between Whistler and Pemberton.

The plan makes clear that introducing weekday service between Metro Vancouver and Squamish is a high priority, considering the high traffic volume between the two regions and the number of Squamish residents who commute into the city for work each day. Its goal is to have this completed by 2020.

The initial service would include weekday peak hour trips between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

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That service, along with the introduction of mid-day or evening transit between Pemberton and Whistler and further study into the region’s transit needs, is expected to cost roughly $800,000.

Just the service between Metro Vancouver and Squamish is estimated to bring in $121,200 in annual revenue with three buses dedicated to the route serving 40,400 passengers a year. It could cost $626,600, shared between the regions and BC Transit.

The proposal plans to increase weekday service and add weekend service between Squamish and Metro Vancouver by 2025. It will also begin routes between Squamish and Whistler (which previously operated between 2005 and 2011), meaning passengers can travel between Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton entirely on transit.

BC Transit also proposes that by 2025:

  • Weekday service will add additional trips between 9 a.m and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.
  • Weekend service is introduced with four round trips per day, operating every two hours
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While there are no estimates on how long the bus route would take to travel between the communities, the typical drive from downtown Vancouver to Squamish is roughly one hour. It takes about another 45 minutes to get to Whistler and just over two hours to get to Pemberton. There is no indication how much a ride between any of the communities would cost but the plans suggest a zone-based system similar to TransLink’s Metro Vancouver structure.

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“It’s time for action. The province is committed to the Sea-to-Sky as the next logical step for regional transit in the province… but the governance structure and funding formula is going to be a challenge to reach an agreement on,” Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky, said about the project.

The Sea-to-Sky region is home to nearly 40,000 people and its population has increased 86 per cent in the last 25 years. Census data from 2016 shows the population of Squamish increased over 13 per cent between 2011 and 2016, while Whistler grew by over 20 per cent and Pemberton grew by almost 6 per cent. The whole region expected to continue growing by 2.2 to 2.6 per cent each year until 2031, partly due to staggering home prices in Metro Vancouver that are pushing more people farther away from the city.

Elements like growing tourism and more jobs in the region means that thousands of people visit the Sea-to-Sky corridor every day. Seasonal swells in Whistler’s population can grow to up to 45,000 people on a holiday weekend, for instance, and the resort town records 2.7 million tourists each year.

New tourist attractions like the Sea-to-Sky Gondola in Squamish – which just counted its one millionth visitor – are also helping to push the region onto the map. In 2015, the New York Times named Squamish as one of the 52 places to go in 2015 because of the city’s access to one of the West Coast’s best wilderness playgrounds.

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BC Transit will be hosting six public consultations in early March on the proposed Sea-to-Sky transit changes. The consultations will include conversations about where bus stops should be located, routing, schedules and fares.

A previous survey of over 2,700 people, mostly from Squamish and Whistler, found 43 per cent of respondents preferred Vancouver’s Waterfront Station as the most desirable pick-up and drop-off location in Metro Vancouver. Garibaldi Village and downtown Squamish were the most preferred in Squamish. The Village was the top pick in Whistler and downtown Pemberton was the most preferred stop in the Pemberton area.