Friday, August 20, 2010

Mountain Rides rethinks Twin route

Contract plan rejected; Mountain Rides to operate service

Express Staff Writer

Mountain Rides is “going back to the drawing board” on a plan to provide daily commuter service from the Magic Valley to the Wood River Valley. The organization is now looking at starting the service in November. Photo by David N. Seelig

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority has decided to run daily commuter service from the Magic Valley itself after receiving only one overpriced proposal for contracting the service to a private company.

"It would be cheaper to buy everyone a car and have them drive every day," said board member Blair Boand at Wednesday's meeting of the Mountain Rides board of directors.

Boand was exaggerating, but the sole proposal for the service from Salt Lake Express was nearly $100,000 higher than the maximum amount Mountain Rides intended to spend for a year of service.

Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller told the board that the organization was looking at a $200,000 to $250,000 price range for a year of service, but the proposal from Salt Lake Express came in at $348,000.

Miller said Mountain Rides received several inquiries from private bus companies after the request for proposals was issued in June, but "in the end we only got one." He said a problem with the service is that it's too small of a contract for the major private bus companies and too large of a contract for the smaller service providers.

"It's disappointing that we couldn't find a private company to do this—that would have been simpler," Miller said. "We're in a situation now that we have to look at Mountain Rides operating it ourselves."

The major hurdle for self-operation is that Mountain Rides doesn't own a bus for longer highway trips.

In an interview, Miller said Mountain Rides had hoped to have the service operational in October, but now it's looking like November at the earliest.

"We're going back to the drawing board to a certain extent," he said. "We're putting together a plan for how we can run it."

Miller said the plan will be ready for presentation to the board at its next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 16.

He said the buses Mountain Rides now uses for commuter service in the Wood River Valley "wouldn't really work" for a longer trip from Twin Falls. Instead, Mountain Rides may lease buses for the service.

"That's the big hurdle for us—the equipment," he said.

Once it's started, the service would provide two daily roundtrips from the Magic Valley to the Wood River Valley. One would originate in Twin Falls and the other in Shoshone.

Mountain Rides currently provides around-town service in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area and in Hailey, Valley service from Bellevue to Ketchum and commuter van service from the Magic Valley to the Wood River Valley.

( In other business at Wednesday's board meeting, Miller said the organization is looking at a budget for fiscal year 2011, which starts in October, of $2,481,7000.

The proposed budget, which will be considered by the board at its September meeting, is only modestly higher than this year's budget of $2,251,610.

Miller said earlier concerns about funding cuts from local municipalities haven't proved valid and most of the funding partners have committed to providing funding at the same level they did for fiscal 2010.

One exception is the city of Sun Valley, which according to the proposed budget will reduce funding from $330,000 to $300,000.

Miller also reported at the meeting that ridership overall is about 10 percent higher this year than last.

Terry Smith:

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