Calgary, Kelowna bus shuttle studied; new ski hill bus approved
Two new bus-related initiatives were approved at the Sept. 11 meeting for Revelstoke city council. They okayed the purchase of a third ski shuttle bus, and also approved a staff investigation into subsidizing a shuttle to and from the Kelowna and Calgary airports.
New, bigger ski shuttle bus
Council allocated $154,000 from hotel tax funds to purchase a new 60-seat bus that will be added to the winter ski shuttle route. The service takes skiers and boarders from hotels, motels and bus stops in the city to Revelstoke Mountain Resort and back.
The bus will be the third one servicing the popular route and will be significantly larger that the existing two shuttle buses.
"Last winter, with the existing two buses, it was not enough to keep up with demand," explained city economic development director Alan Mason. "The ridership on the buses increased from 29,000 to 45,000 last winter. It did not look good for us for a couple of weeks when we were leaving lots of people standing on the sidewalk when the bus went by."
He said the ski resort and local hotels were forecasting a busier winter this year, necessitating the bigger bus. The route will use the new, larger bus, and one of the existing smaller ones, keeping the third bus on stand-by for peak periods.
The purchase is funded through the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds. The provincial program adds a two-per-cent tax to accommodation bills in the city, then kicks the proceeds back for resort infrastructure projects.
It's hoped the bus will be in service by the peak New Year holiday season.
Shuttle bus to Kelowna and Calgary airports study
Another potential project would also be paid for through the RMI fund — leasing a bus to provide shuttle service to and from the Calgary and Kelowna airports.
One problem, council heard, is there's no direct bus service to the airports. Greyhound and other private operators go to those cities, but there aren't good connections from the airports to the bus stations.
The idea is to create a scheduled service.
Another problem, they heard, is the bus business is tough these days. Tour operators who took clients to places like Banff have been scaling back or shutting down. A private operator wouldn't be able to sustain a regularly-scheduled snow shuttle service to the airports.
A third problem is connectivity. Revelstoke Mountain Resort skier services director Steve Bailey told council that U.S. clients are OK with flying to Kelowna, but struggle with the final leg of the journey.
Meanwhile, Bailey said European clients don't want to take smaller regional flights in Canada. They want to arrive at Calgary and have ground transportation provided from there.
The staff study would explore some kind of public-private partnership, although no details were provided.
Some councillors had concerns.
Coun. Phil Welock thought a request for proposals should be issued. He worried about the city being responsible for a busload of visitors stuck at Rogers Pass for three days.
Coun. Steve Bender was concerned about using public funds to compete with private enterprise.
Coun. Gary Starling said the responsibility shouldn't fall on the city's shoulders. "It should be the resort that's doing it," Starling said.
Both Bailey and Mason countered that the idea had broad support from tourism operators including those in accommodations, heli-skiing, sledding, retail and restaurants.
"The hotels are 100 per cent behind this initiative," Mason said.
Brydon Roe operates the Revelstoke Connection and Stoke Shuttle, booking tours and operating buses into the Okanagan.
He was supportive of the idea, saying the idea had come through tourism operators in Revelstoke who are anticipating a big increase in skier numbers this winter. Transportation is seen as a key concern.
Roe said his business moved approximately 2,000 customers round trip last year; he's forecasting 3,500 this year.
Roe cited a recent spread on Revelstoke in Powder Magazine that noted the excessive travel time here. "This perception that you can't get to Revelstoke drives me nuts," Roe said. The buses will help, but part of the challenge is to make people know it's not impossible to get here. "The wholesalers are telling us this," Roe said.
Roe also noted regular service from Los Angeles' LAX airport to Kelowna will commence this year.
He said his company would be interested in bidding for the contract to provide whatever kind of service arises from the RMI bus initiative if it moves forward. He said the RMI subsidy would allow them to expand services, such as providing scheduled service.
Council approved the staff study. No numbers were provided.