Reducing congestion and lowering greenhouse gas emissions are high on the list of priorities for many municipalities around the province and, despite the high operating costs of public transportation, some have found cutting fares is key.
While transit riders in the Lower Mainland have seen fares rise recently, Whistler transit fares decreased from $65 to $50 a month this year. Throughout the summer, buses ran for free on weekends and holiday Mondays in the resort municipality.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said slashing fares is all part of a strategy to encourage residents and tourists to use the bus system more — and it's working.
When the municipality first introduced free buses on weekends, it was told by experts that periodic free transit wouldn't affect ridership, she said.
"In fact, exactly the opposite happened," Wilhelm-Morden said. "We had a 52 per cent increase in ridership on the free transit days which equated to 400 fewer vehicles on the road."
She said the extra riders were a mixture of service staff and seasonal workers, long-term residents giving transit a try and some visitors staying in nearby neighbourhoods.
Parking prices were also increased and the revenues from paid parking offset transit costs, Wilhelm-Morden said.
Whister's population has exploded in recent years. According to the latest census numbers, Whistler is the fastest growing community of its size in B.C. and has increased more than 21 per cent since 2011.
This has led to a growing pressure on transportation systems, both along Highway 99 and within Whistler, Wilhelm-Morden said.
Getting to the mountainside or finding parking in the village can be nearly impossible at peak times.
"What we want to do is reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and help with congestion and issues with parking by getting people out of their cars and onto transit," she said.
The municipality is in conversation with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and B.C. Transit to come up with a long-term solution that also targets regional transit issues.