January 3, 2018 11:28 pm

Congestion-plagued Whistler tried free transit, and says it took hundreds of cars off the road

Whistler's mayor says implementing free transit one day a week took the equivalent of 400 cars of the road.

Global News

Could the cure for Metro Vancouver’s congestion woes be nestled in the mountains north of the city?

The Resort Municipality of Whistler has been experimenting with its own program to handle traffic trouble, and says it’s paying dividends.

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden joined CKNW’s Steele & Drex on Wednesday to explain what they tried, and how well it worked.

LISTEN: Whistler solved its road congestion problem by reducing transit fares

Like many municipalities on the South Coast, Whistler has seen explosive population growth in recent years, with residency up 20 per cent since 2011.

That growth, combined with Whistler’s status as a hot spot for out-of-town visitors, led to nasty gridlock.

In response, Whistler struck a new transportation advisory committee a year-and-a-half ago.

WATCH: Whistler bottlenecks not sitting well with residents (January 2017)

One of the committee’s recommendations was to make transit cheaper and more accessible, Wilhelm-Morden said. So in the summer of 2016, the community tried an experiment: free transit on Saturdays.

“Our experts told us that wouldn’t change ridership. If you just throw in a free day on the bus every now and again, it won’t change behaviours. Well, they were wrong,” she said.

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READ MORE: Huge capital upgrade announced for Whistler-Blackcomb

The result was striking: a 52 per cent jump in ridership on free days — the equivalent of about 400 cars off the road, Wilhelm-Morden said.

The next year, Whistler doubled down, she said.

The community added new pay parking in some areas and increased the parking fees in others.

It took the money and used it to implement free weekend transit for the entire summer of 2017, while slashing the price of a bus pass from $65 to $50, she explained.

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

“Of course we got — and we still are getting — complaints about pay parking,” she said.

“But in that regard, for day lots four and five, if you are a resident or an employee, you can get a monthly parking pass for $30, which is a dollar a day.”

Despite the parking complaints, she said people voted with their feet — ditching their cars and flocking to transit.

“Rather than muck around trying to find a parking spot, they simply left their cars in the driveway and jumped on the bus.”

WATCH: BC transit could be selling Whistler hydrogen buses at a loss (December 2014)

Wilhelm-Morden said the community is now looking to its transit future, mulling ways to expand its free transit program and preparing to increase bus service in the coming months.

It’s also phasing in a fleet of natural gas-powered buses, which Wilhelm-Morden says are quieter and cleaner.

As for whether Whistler’s solution to congestion could work in Metro Vancouver — Wilhelm-Morden said she’s not prepared to tell other mayors what to do.

“We know it’s working here, and I would simply invite those who are interested to contact us to see what we did and how it worked.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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