Fourth in a series on the leaders of nonprofit organizations in Blaine County.
Growth in the valley is happening everywhere you look. For every new home that is built and houses, full-time, a family, more infrastructure is needed, another two or three children are added to the school district and another two cars are added to the road. The additional cars make the most impression in the commuter traffic from the south valley, and farther, to Ketchum and Sun Valley, and back.
As a way of alleviating state Highway 75 commuter traffic, and possibly offer an alternative to highway expansion plans, in 2000, transportation planner Beth Callister formed Wood River Rideshare. The organization promotes alternative modes of transportation, from the Peak Bus, which it introduced, and car pooling to Bike-to-Work days.
In January 2006, Callister relinquished the executive director's reins (though she remains president of the board) at Rideshare to Jason Miller.
Miller moved here from Boise with his wife, Suzanne, though his business experience leads back to Colorado. While enrolled at University of Colorado, Boulder, Miller began a business on the side by transporting groups for weekend getaways in his van. He graduated in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, and for a time worked in technological sales and marketing. Eventually, the Millers moved to Buena Vista, Colo., and built up a private transportation company, which they eventually sold to a competitor. Although she was a business major, Miller's wife decided to change careers and returned to school in Boise to become a nurse. She now works at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.
"That was a big part of considering a move here," Miller said in his office in Ketchum last week. Surrounded by cartoon pictures of buses, and commuters waiting for rides, Miller is at ease in his position after nine months, and seems to understand the issues that often seem insurmountable.
Using alternative means of transportation from the "one driver-one car" mode isn't an easy sell, he admitted. "It's not an all-or-nothing thing. I look at the person who could use the bus once or twice a week or carpool once or twice a week. We want to tailor what we do to those chunks of the population to use."
Miller and his wife have a young daughter and another child on the way. Hailey residents, they commute to Ketchum, along with thousands of other workers.
"I commute. I recreate. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old who goes to pre-school. I live it. I carpool, take the bus and drive alone. I'm very representative of a lot of people who live here. It takes extra time and some extra planning."
A marketing study done recently by Conservation Impact of Denver convinced Miller that Rideshare needed to make sure to match services with what people really want.
"It's about quality of life and why we (at Rideshare) do what we do," he said. "Transportation along with housing—they're linked. It's the big issue to overcome. You have to look at why people choose not to take alternative modes of transportation and address that."
Completing the original plan, the Peak Bus was recently integrated into the KART bus system and is now run by KART Manager Terry Crawford. Continuing is the little-known Emergency Ride Home Program, which is under-utilized, Miller said. Register at Rideshare first. Then, when and if you're required to stay at work late, you can take a cab and be reimbursed by Rideshare.
Miller also helped implement the Safe Routes to School program that encourages biking and walking to school by organizing parent-led groups, as well as working on improving infrastructure like crosswalks and sidewalks.
"We are now taking the program to all of the local elementary schools with added capacity of having an AmeriCorps member," Miller said. "I've been involved with expanding and growing this great program, which is part of a national effort."
Miller is especially jazzed about Rideshare's latest project: vanpooling.
"This is the big new thing," Miller said. "The Peak Bus was huge and was done in cooperation with Blaine County and Idaho Transportation Department. We're using that same model for the van program. A lot of what we do is outreach and education. The vanpool is a result of a hands-on grant from the ITD."
Three 15-passenger vans, purchased for the vanpool program, will "service all those outside of Peak Bus area, such as Carey, Twin Falls, Shoshone and possibly Fairfield," Miller said.
The first van will begin to roll next week in Twin Falls. Already, employers in the Wood River Valley are signed up to make use of the program for employees who come from south of the valley. Among them are the city of Hailey, Blaine County School District, Power Engineers, Marketron, Clearwater Landscaping, St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, and Sun Valley Co.
Other new programs that are in their infancy are a bus share program and a car share program. Miller is continually looking for solutions. The Smart Moves program will soon be run year-round, encouraging such alternatives as Carpool-to-Work day and Ski-to-Work day.
The latter is a pet concept. Miller calls himself an alpinist—he'll ride anything that slides on snow.
Rideshare is doing its best to be involved in all aspects of planning and transportation, which is essentially new for him.
"Making a transition from the business world to the nonprofit and government world is a challenge," Miller said. "But, honestly, it's been great. Working with my board, we're pretty nimble, much like a small business would be. Navigating the government side has been the hardest but this is how change happens. Personally (I have to be) patient, whether it's the highway expansion or the (Ketchum) downtown master plan or making connections to the bike path—things that impact the increase of alternative modes. There's no reason the best practices that work anywhere in the country can't work here."
Despite his hopes for the future and a mind swirling with other progressive ideas, Miller is working on that ability to be patient.
"If it's too high, they're not going to jump."