Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Silver lining in gas prices

If anything positive can be said of soaring gasoline prices, it's this: Cost-conscious drivers in the Wood River Valley are turning to bicycle pedal power that reduces automotive emissions into the air and flocking to the valley's commuter bus system.

In one year, bus ridership on the Mountain Rides system—the new name—has leaped 106 percent in May from May of last year (9,628 passengers versus 4,622).

Instead of being a casual alternative to commuters, the system has become a primary source, especially for workers who are chary about their expenses.

Long-range, the result is that more and more commuters will develop the bus habit, not only because of personal savings on gasoline, but in learning the ease of riding the commuter bus and sparing themselves the daily to-and-fro stresses of drive time on state Highway 75.

For management of Mountain Rides, this zooming interest in buses creates a special opportunity and obligation to ensure that service meets the needs of passengers. Put another way, make the customer want to come back time and again.

One goal must be kept in mind. A public transit system for the Wood River Valley is as essential a public service as police, fire and emergency medical care. True, it's a convenience. But it also could become an utterly indispensable emergency service in a crisis in which large groups of people needed to be moved.

Maintaining a year-round fleet of buses and drivers should no more be in question than whether to keep other vital community services at their peak efficiency.

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