Wednesday, February 23, 2005

KART: Peak Bus merger too costly

Proposed tax bill could provide new public-transit funding by 2007

Express Staff Writer

The manager of the Ketchum Area Rapid Transit bus system has determined that it might not be cost effective for the organization to take over operation of the Peak Bus commuter line in the Wood River Valley.

In a report to the KART board of directors Wednesday, Feb. 16, KART Manager Terry Crawford said it would annually cost three times as much for KART to operate the Peak Bus than it would for the Peak Bus to continue to operate under its current management structure.

Crawford told KART directors Dick Andersen, Blair Boand, Bill Cassell and Maurice Charlat that under current conditions it would cost KART approximately $600,000 annually to provide the same services as the Peak Bus. The current annual operating budget for the Peak Bus—which is managed by the Wood River Rideshare commuter-services organization—is approximately $193,000, Crawford said.

The report was provided upon the request of the KART governing board. The board had asked for a study of whether it would be cost effective for KART—Blaine County's primary public-transit provider—to absorb the Peak Bus into its operations, thereby establishing a consolidated valley-wide bus system.

Some elected officials in Blaine County have said it should be a priority to establish a countywide public-transit system. At the same time, some officials from Ketchum and Sun Valley—the two cities that fund KART through the collection of resort-related local option taxes—have suggested an expansion of KART should come with meaningful financial contributions from other local governments.

The Peak Bus—which was started in 2002—offers low-cost public transportation seven times per day between Bellevue, Sun Valley and points in between. The buses for the system are provided through a lease agreement with Sun Valley Express, a private bus line that provides transportation between Sun Valley and Boise.

In his report to the KART board, Crawford said one of the primary reasons the KART operating cost would be significantly higher is that Sun Valley Express has given Peak Bus very favorable lease terms on the buses used in the commuter route.

"They're getting a great deal from Sun Valley Express," Crawford said.

In addition, Crawford said, costs associated with employee benefits, vehicle insurance and administration would also run up the KART operating budget.

Beth Callister, executive director of Wood River Rideshare, said the cost of operating the Peak Bus under its current management agreement is attractively low. However, she said, the low cost has sometimes come at the expense of good, reliable service.

"We don't want to keep to the rock-bottom price," she said.

Crawford told the KART board that new funding that could help expand the KART system into other parts of Blaine County might come in the future but is not imminent.

A bill that would allow any Idaho city or county to charge a local option tax to raise money for public-transportation projects has been proposed to the Legislature, Crawford said, but will not be voted on this year. If supported and approved next year, he said, funding for a regional system could come in 2007.

Although the KART board took no action on the Peak Bus takeover proposal, discussions about expanding KART to serve areas in the middle and southern Wood River Valley are all but certain to resurface in the future.

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