Friday, March 5, 2010

Mountain Rides ready to roll in Hailey

New free town service set to start April 5

Express Staff Writer

Mountain Rides officials Jason Miller and Erikka Gulbranson display a planning board for around-town bus service coming to Hailey in April. Photo by David N. Seelig

Fans of the bus can mark their calendars for Monday, April 5, as the official start date for Mountain Rides Transportation Authority's free around-town bus service in the city of Hailey.

Mountain Rides and Hailey officials are putting the finishing touches on the plan for daily bus service that will run from Albertsons grocery store parking lot in the north to as far south as Countryside Boulevard. Stops in between include the new St. Luke's health clinic on Aviation Drive, the Senior Connection on Third Avenue and the Community Campus on Fox Acres Road.

"The cool thing about this is it hits all the hot spots," said Erikka Gulbranson, Mountain Rides marketing and public outreach coordinator. "It's going to hit places we don't now serve so people will have a little bit more mobility around town."

Plans are yet to be finalized and won't be until after a round of public information and comment sessions set for Tuesday, March 9.

"Next week, Tuesday will be the big day," Gulbranson said. "The feedback from this will help us to know—do we need to go to this area, or do we need to go to that area?"

Preliminary plans are for hourly routes Monday through Friday with service starting at 6:30 a.m. and running until 11 a.m. Following a midday break, when ridership is typically low, service will resume at 2 p.m. and continue until 6:30 p.m.

The Hailey town service will connect with the Mountain Rides Valley Service, which shuttles passengers between the south and north valleys and connects to around-town service in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area.

Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said ridership is remaining consistent for the organization—about 60,000 rides per month—and interest has been high for the new service in Hailey.

"From the outreach we've done, there's been a lot of enthusiasm for the hospital [St. Luke's clinic] service and the senior citizen center," Miller said.

Startup funding for the new service was made possible by a $167,000 grant from the Federal Transit Authority and matching funds from the city of Hailey. Miller estimated the service will cost between $135,000 and $150,000 per year, with two-thirds of the funding coming from federal grants and one-third from the city.

Twin Falls service

Mountain Rides' officials had earlier hoped to have commuter bus service between the Magic Valley and the Wood River Valley up and running by April, but now it's looking more like June.

Miller explained that the commuter buses used in Blaine County aren't suitable for long hauls and it would take Mountain Rides at least a year to finance the purchase of a large, coach-style bus. Instead, the service will likely be awarded to a private contractor.

"We're researching the bid process right now, and hopefully we'll bid it in April and have it operational in June," he said.

Initial plans are for one bus making a daily roundtrip and later expanding to two. A single-trip price is expected to be about $10.

Terry Smith:

'Scout your route'

Mountain Rides will host a "scout your route" day in Hailey on Tuesday, March 9, to discuss details and gather community feedback on a new and upcoming bus route for Hailey around-town service. Information will be available at a Mountain Rides bus stationed in parking lots throughout the day. The bus will be at Atkinsons' Market from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Albertsons grocery store from 1:30-3 p.m. and at the Community Campus from 3:30-5 p.m. A public meeting is scheduled in room 903 at the Community Campus from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

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