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Water, sewer and bus bills

The city could soon be billing for another utility — bus service.At the city charrette on sustainability last week, the idea of sending…

The city could soon be billing for another utility — bus service.

At the city charrette on sustainability last week, the idea of sending Whitehorse residents a monthly transit bill and eliminating bus tickets and cash boxes on buses was discussed, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

“We heard some interesting things at our charrette process, our sustainability charrette. We were talking in one part about our transportation and what we can do about our public transit system,” said Buckway.

“There was an idea floated that if we could get 60 per cent of people to agree, we could come up with some very reasonable monthly passes and just do an automatic billing system for it.”

“That seems to be quite a shift from anything that we’ve ever thought about. As we move forward into sustainability principles we might see things like that.”

Whitehorse’s current transit system has efficient routes, but buses don’t come often enough or run late enough, said Dr. Gordon Lovegrove, a transit specialist from the University of British Columbia and a charrette consultant.

“The existing system doesn’t have the frequency, it doesn’t have the service hours, it needs to be at least seven days a week,” he said. “It needs to be reliable, let’s face it.

“Who’s going to leave their car at home if they don’t know if the bus is coming?”

After running nearly every transit route in the city, it’s clear there must be some changes if the city’s goal is to have a healthy transit system, said Lovegrove.

Reducing parking downtown, providing a bus every 15 minutes and eliminating the need to pay for the bus when it comes could increase ridership, he said.

Like Whitehorse, Boulder, Colorado, is spread out, said Lovegrove.

That city was able to implement a similar transit plan that every neighbourhood bought into and now has a car-free downtown core, he added.

Changing the city’s transit system is going to take buy-in from all Whitehorse residents, said Dave Muir, the transit manager.

If the city were to move to the utility style billing system, it could cost each household about $40 to $50 a month to provide a better service that didn’t require people to pay at the fare box, he said.

That money would bring the transit department’s budget from its current level of $1.5 million to about $4.5 million and would allow buses every 15 minutes during peak hours, and every half hour during non-peak times, he said.

Buses would also run later, said Muir.

“Everybody’s got to want this if it’s going to happen,” he said.

The city is already planning big changes for the transit system, which are scheduled to happen in 2009, he said.

The Canada Games loop-line system, which saw buses loop one neighbourhood and then another in series using the games centre as a hub, is being brought online, he said.