Bus issue gets shuttled

Several business people added their voices to the presentation by Tourism Rossland to council June 24 to establish a free ski shuttle bus.

Winter revenue is dropping in Rossland for its downtown businesses, say a pair of long-time business owners.

Roseanne and Richard Chobanuk of Legacy Gift Room and Brew Shop have noticed a steady decline in the sales and traffic in the ski town’s downtown, and they have pointed to one factor as the culprit.

“Since much of the accommodation for ski visitors has moved to the base of the ski hill, we have noticed a significant drop in winter revenue over the past 22 years,” they said in a letter to city council.

As a result, the Chobanuks and several other prominent business people added their voices to the presentation by Tourism Rossland to city council on June 24 to establish a local, free ski shuttle bus to Red Mountain Resort for the winter.

Executive director of Tourism Rossland (TR), Deanne Steven, stood before council and again iterated the importance of the city approving a move to bring a free service to the ski hill for the winter.

She asked council to approve a resolution—provided by the board of Tourism Rossland—to allow continued funding for a winter shuttle.

Approval on an amendment to the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI)’s Resort Development Strategy (RDS) must be granted by the city, and subsequently the province, in order to release money to Tourism Rossland for an internal shuttle system from Rossland to Red Mountain.

The approval would cost the municipality nothing, said Steven.

But the shuttle is the number one priority for Rossland businesses, she added. And within the city’s own Strategic Sustainability Plan was a desire to “establish and maintain a shuttle bus between downtown Rossland, Red Mountain Resort and the Redstone Alpine Golf Resort Partnership with Red Mountain Academies.”

She also pointed to the fact there is limited public transit in the winter, with no taxis and very infrequent BC Transit linking the communities in the region.

“This economic development project we believe will have an immediate impact on tourism revenues in Rossland,” Steven said.

Without the shuttle bus many destination visitors to the ski hill are missing out on what the city has in store in its stores, since many people fly into the area rather than drive.

“We have had several comments from visitors stating that they had no idea that there was such a lovely little downtown as they hadn’t been able to find a way in sooner,” said the Chobanuks in their letter, causing them to wonder how many people never did discover the jewel of Rossland.

“We believe that being able to wander through the downtown area is an important part of the complete vacation experience.”

The RMI was started in 2006 with 14 RMI communities, of which Rossland is the smallest. Rossland will receive $28,362 in 2013 from the initiative.

In 2012 the RDS was amended to include a pilot project for an internal shuttle service with a budget for $11,000. This was financially possible by using left over (unused) funds from previous years from the RMI.

For 2013/14 winter ($11,000) and 2014/15 winter ($7,000), unused funds are earmarked for the internal shuttle. But after 2014/2015 no funds will be available based on the projected amount of RMI funds allocated to Rossland.

But Tourism Rossland and the business community want council to approve the release of further RMI funding to help fund the expanded service in the coming years to ensure its sustainability.

The expanded scope of the service would cost around $78,000 for the season. Last year it cost TR $14,000 to operate the shuttle on a much more limited basis.

The new plan is for a bus to operate every day during the winter (when the Red Mountain is open) from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and would be free, continuously looping through the city every hour to 45 minutes.

“It’s a huge increase and we’re going for it,” said Steven. “The business community is so behind this. This is the one thing that they have all gotten behind and said was critical for their business.”

There could be an annual cost drawn from the RMI of $24,000 (based on one per cent), or $48,000 (based on two per cent). The percentage is the calculated portion of the hotel room tax the city—directed by Tourism Rossland—receives from the province from its general revenue.

Tourism Rossland should know in the next week (an inspector visited the city last week) if it has achieved the requisite 450 units of accommodation registered with the Destination B.C. Accommodation Guide to warrant a two per cent return.

There are 367 units right now registered in the city, yielding a one per cent return.

Other stakeholders in the shuttle service are expected to contribute $54,000 (based on one per cent) or $30,000 (based on two per cent).

Additionally, Steven said TR has already raised $22,375 in support from local businesses and organizations for the internal bus and are working with a supplier to negotiate terms of a contract.

Last year, with funding from the Resort Municipality Initiative, TR set up a partnership with Red Mountain Academies and contracted it out to a Trail-based company to offer a limited service to the hill for the first time. They had 780 trips, with around 22 riders per day based on three round trips.

If TR is successful with the two per cent increase to the hotel room tax revenue then a delegation to council to request an amendment to the RMI plan will be necessary followed by approval of the province.

The proposed shuttle would be a partnership with Red Mountain Academies, Red Mountain Resort and local businesses and stakeholders.

The proposal will be coming back for council decision at its next regular council meeting.

Steven also suggested council spearhead a community-wide discussion regarding the visitor centre once the Gateway feasibility study has been completed.