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BC Transit prepares to make money in Whistler

More than $200,000 could be made at the BC Transit facility if commercial opportunities are allowed to flourish there.

And Whistler wants a piece of that action.

On Tuesday council moved ahead with zoning amendments to pave the way for the first commercial operations at the BC Transit facility, perhaps setting the stage for more commercial operations at Transit centres elsewhere in the province.

The zoning changes will allow Transit to rent bus parking, the diesel fuelling station and the bus washing station at a fee. The $23.5 million facility is under-utilized, built for 50 buses with only 23 serving the community at the moment.

The bus parking contract already secured by BC Transit will generate $40,000 per year. It deals with parking for one anchor tenant.

The municipality will get $17,000 the first year, increasing to roughly $20,000 in later years. That money will go back into transit services in Whistler, as will BC Transit's cut of the money.

At first council appeared reticent to share its views.

"Any questions?" Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden asked her team, to silence.

"My goodness, quiet bunch."

She went on to explain why she was supporting the proposal — namely to mitigate the construction costs of the large capital project, but also to have some say on remedial work that could be done to the site at council's request. The site has been exempt from municipal land use bylaws because Transit and the landowner, BC Hydro, are both Crown corporations. Third-party operators like private bus companies, however, are not exempt.

After the mayor spoke, the rest of council loosened up a little.

Councillor Jack Crompton expressed some reservations about his support.

"I find it difficult when government gets into business," he said.

Councillor Duane Jackson urged him to look at the bigger issues such as getting the private buses out of the free parking in the day skier lots.

Other councillors expressed their support given that the facility is underutilized and this could be a way for the municipality to exercise some control on the site.

"I feel like we're outside the fence right now," said Councillor Roger McCarthy, adding that once the municipality gets "inside the fence" it could have more control on what he described as "one of the worst eyesores."

Crompton explained that he wouldn't vote in favour of the deal if he didn't see the upsides too.

"I want to be clear that there are downsides," he added.

The council report doesn't reveal too much about future opportunities on the site.

"BC Transit's Commercial Services Business Case presents a number of different possible future revenue opportunities," states the report. "The high-side net revenue projections range beyond $200,000 per year, if all business opportunities identified at this site are pursued. There are, of course, uncertainties going forward. One or more of the identified opportunities may not evolve as originally foreseen. Nonetheless, the annual revenue comes at no cost... and no risk to the Resort Municipality of Whistler."

BC Transit would not release the Commercial Services Business Case this week, but corporate spokesperson Meribeth Burton explained that the $200,000 is potential revenue further down the road. Right now Transit is focused on its one secured $40,000 contract and getting council approval.

"We're looking at innovative ways to generate revenue and to make best possible use of the transit centre," she said. "We expect that we can generate upwards of $200,000 if we also have the site available for bus washing as well as parking for other interested bus and related companies."

There will be public hearings on the bylaw changes before council moves ahead with finalizing the bylaws.

This article originally appeared on The Pique.

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