By Art Harrison
Ski season has been over for almost a month and the results are in for Tourism Rossland’s data gathering effort on the Free Ride shuttle bus service provided in the Golden City over the winter, and the results are even surprising the people who ran the service.
“There were way more passengers than I expected,” said Deanne Steven, executive director of Tourism Rossland. “It was so many people I couldn’t believe it. It was an overwhelming project for all involved.”
According to the report on the service released by the non-profit organization, over 19,000 passengers took advantage of the free transportation between Rossland and Red Mountain averaging 170 passengers per day, 14,000 of which were local or seasonal residents.
The organization gathered over 122 pages of data over the season to track the usage of the service and try to gauge its effect on the local economy to assist with future planning.
According to the study, hotel stays, including Red Mountain Resort accommodation and in Rossland, saw an increase of over 60 per cent and group bookings rose 100 per cent making the 2013/2014 season the best year for the industry since tracking began in 2006.
Steven said that a side benefit of having the free service available seemed to be as much for people working at Red Mountain as well as others in the food and beverage industry around the hill.
Although skiers, boarders, and staff rode for free Steven said it wasn’t really without cost.
“This is a model where it’s not really free,” she said. “Forty-two local businesses paid the ticket for people to use the bus.”
In addition to the local businesses picking up $42,000 of the tab, a matching amount was contributed to the service from the Resort Municipality Initiative, a rural B.C. economic development project under the provincial Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training.
For the future, Steven says they are looking at expanding the service by extending the bus route into lower Rossland and out to the Black Jack cross country ski area, using a larger bus to avoid having to leave people behind when they are over-capacity, and possibly tying in the route and schedule to accommodate students at Seven Summits, the old RSS, and Ecole des Sept Sommets in case School District 20 withdraws bus service next year.
“I think we provided a tremendous service for Rossland residents,” said Steven. “In the process I’m learning more than I ever expected about public transportation.”