The Rossland Free Ride Bus is returning again this year but has been renamed the Rossland Ski Bus to reflect the fact that the bus has never actually been free.
While the bus will still be funded in part by the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) this year, it has always been paid for in part by key stakeholders.
“We renamed it to Rossland Ski Bus because it’s never really been free. … I mean it was free for users, but it cost the various stakeholders roughly $90,000 to operate for four months,” said András Lukács, executive director of Tourism Rossland.
Approximately a third of that cost is covered by RMI funding and the RMI program is set to expire in March, with no indication yet from the provincial government as to whether or not it will be renewed.
For this year, Tourism Rossland has made an agreement with Kootenay Gateway to run the bus between downtown Rossland and Red Mountain Resort, according to Lukács, but has also started making changes to its funding model.
“After some lengthy conversation with key stakeholders we decided to change the funding model a little bit and sell advertising instead of asking local businesses to contribute to the service, so we developed three different advertising tiers,” said Lukács.
Advertising will appear inside and outside the bus and on the bus’s website.
“We’ll have a digital screen inside the bus this year too that will display some ads,” said Lukács.
The bus is also getting a new website this year that will eventually launch at rosslandskibus.ca.
In regards to service, the bus’s downtown route has been shortened to save money.
“The bus will start basically from the Prestige, go up to the Flying Steamshovel, make a small loop and come back down Washington. So it will not go through the whole downtown on Columbia. The shortened loop saves us a significant amount of money. We are going up to the Steamshovel because they put in a lot of money to support the service,” explains Lukács. “And then it will go up to the museum, the Centennial parking lot, Rock Cut [Pub], and then will arrive at the hill and the exact stops at the hill are still to be determined.”
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the bus will also stop at the Black Jack Ski Area.
The bus will run from 7:30 a.m. to at least 5:30 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
But based on funding, the service may have to be reduced during the last two weeks of the season.
To help raise the funding to maintain full service the last two weeks, the Rossland Ski Bus has an upcoming fundraiser and will launch a fundraising campaign.
On Thursday, Dec. 7, from 6 to 9 p.m., the Flying Steamshovel will donate half of all burger sales to the Rossland Ski Bus, and throughout the ski season, there will be a crowdfunding campaign at yodel.org.
Tourism Rossland is also still looking for additional advertisers.
The schedule for the Rossland Ski Bus has not yet been released, but will eventually be available on the new website.
Tourism Rossland is also negotiating with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) to once again offer free BC Transit service between Rossland and Red.
“Last year we had an agreement with the RDKB to allow passengers within Rossland to use the BC Transit ski bus … for free and then Tourism Rossland paid for those passengers too,” said Lukács.
While offering transit for tourists and residents visiting the ski resort is a major consideration behind Tourism Rossland providing the service, another consideration is providing transit for employees to get out to Red.
“The bus is not a long-term solution, but I think it’s essential at this point when we consider the growing issue of the shortage of the rental housing in Rossland. A lot of these seasonal workers and workers who are working full-time up there, might have to live down in Trail or in Warfield, so there’s definitely some issues that we have to deal with,” said Lukács.
Parking at Red is also an issue and he hopes more people using the bus will alleviate parking demand and help reduce greenhouse gases.
But the biggest consideration is what will happen if the RMI funding does not continue.
Lukács says it’s something Tourism Rossland and stakeholders have been discussing, and one possible solution is to start charging user fees.
“We discussed having a resident pass, a yearly pass that residents could purchase and then they could get on the bus, and then having some kind of user fee for other users who are here,” he said.
Yet another consideration: if about $30,000 of infrastructure development funding is going into the ski bus year after year, what other tourism infrastructure is not being developed as a result?
“Right now we’re using it for the bus, but there could be other assets, tourism infrastructure, where we could actually leverage that money and keep building Rossland as a more attractive four-season destination,” said Lukács.