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Where are we at with Sea to Sky regional transit?

Community leaders meet with ministers to keep the wheels rolling.
Transit Alex Ratson
Why do you want regional transit? Let us know with a letter to the editor:

A lot divides folks in Squamish, but one thing most agree on is that we need a regional transit system up the Sea to Sky Highway.

Local governments, including First Nations in the corridor, also agree, but thus far, an agreement with the provincial government has been elusive. 

Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board chair Jen Ford told The Squamish Chief that there is room for optimism that regional transit is in our futures, though there have been no major breakthroughs. 

"We are no further ahead than we were, at this moment in time, except that we have reopened the discussion with new ministers at the table and new staff in those departments," said Ford. 

In the lead-up to the annual Union of BC Municipalities convention in mid-September, regional representatives including Ford, the mayors from Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, representatives from Squamish Nation, Lil'wat Nation, Area D director Tony Rainbow and Russell Mack of Electoral Area C, met with Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming and Minister of State for Infrastructure Bowinn Ma

Ford said it was unusual to have the attention of all three ministers for this discussion, which took place via a conference call. Usually it is only one minister. 

She added that in other meetings during UBCM, regional transportation also came up, as it is central to many issues in the region. 

She described the ministers as "very engaged" in the conversation and up to speed on the desire for regional transit in the Sea to Sky. 

"It sounds like they are more interested in it than in the past, which is good," she said. 

"In 2017, the board put together, in my opinion, a really good case for why regional transit is so imperative for our region," she said. "Not only does it get us closer to our climate goals — getting people out of single-occupancy vehicles for commuting between our regions — but it also helps with a number of affordability issues for our communities [and] for people travelling to and from medical appointments throughout the region." 

At that time, the provincial government message was that the fuel tax was off the table, and the corridor representatives were told to go back to the drawing board and get creative with a funding model, Ford recalled. 

This time, each of the provincial ministers has affordable transit written in their mandate letter.

"It was specifically saying, 'Help us work together so that we can all achieve this goal as soon as possible," Ford said. "How can we move this from feasibility to operationally? How can we make this happen?"

Currently, SLRD staff are working with the provincial government on their regional transit assessments, Ford said. 

What does the provincial government say about this?

Asked about the status of plans for regional transit in the Sea to Sky, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said the province had "committed to work with partners to better integrate public transportation options along the Sea to Sky Corridor."

As a result, in partnership with TransLink and the Province, BC Transit will be reaching out to residents who live in the Sea to Sky over the next few months to learn more about their travel needs which will help inform future projects. 

"In addition to future work, communities along the Sea to Sky Corridor currently have a robust local transit system. There are also private operators that offer service within this corridor, including the Squamish Connector, which provides commuter service to Vancouver," the spokesperson added. 

The province also provided Safe Restart funding to corridor governments to partially off-set the lost transit revenue related to the drop in ridership due to the pandemic. 

The spokesperson also noted that in March 2021, the provincial government provided one-time economic relief funding totalling $1.34 million to seven private intercity bus companies that operate on the Sea to Sky Corridor "to ensure continued service through March 31, 2022."

How can locals advocate?

Ford said locals who want to help support regional leaders pushing for regional transit can write letters of support that share personal experiences of why transit is needed here. 

"Everyone has a different reason as to why they take transit or choose not to take transit," she said, adding she hears of people who won't take it to work but who would take it to shop in Vancouver, for example. Or who want regional transit at certain times. 

"Those kinds of letters of support will often bolster the argument for it and will help us make the case as we go into hopefully some more intense working relationships. It definitely helps."