Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mountain Rides: From little acorns grow

To say big things have happened to the valley's public bus system is to hit the proverbial nail on the head.

In 30 years, the system has grown from a primitive, small, local bus route—Ketchum Area Rapid Transit (KART)—to the Mountain Rides regional transportation operation that stretches along the valley spine from Ketchum and Sun Valley to Hailey and Bellevue, then to Twin Falls.

From a few pieces of rolling stock, the system now operates 15 buses and eight vans that carry 15 passengers each. Four new large buses are to be delivered soon.

Nearly a half million passenger trips per year have been recorded.

There's more than a statistical success in Mountain Rides. It symbolizes something far more important.

People of vision began early on putting a permanent public transportation system in place to serve a larger population down the road, so to speak—a system that has now become a familiar brand name and service to Blaine County residents, and can expand in many ways.

Right now, Mountain Rides and Blaine County officials are studying what role the transit operations will fill when a replacement airport for Friedman Memorial is built in southern Blaine County. In addition to private taxi and limousine firms, Mountain Rides would meet the demands of construction workers, airport employees and eventually passengers and flight crews commuting to destinations throughout the county.

The bus system with more rolling stock would be essential in any disaster requiring rapid, high-volume movement of people to safe locations.

And as Friedman Memorial Airport is redeveloped into a multi-use complex, it will require inter-city and intra-city transportation service.

In their own ways, Mountain Rides and its predecessors are models of what cooperation can spawn when communities show determination to unify behind good ideas. Today's Mountain Rides is the result of mergers with Wood River Ride Share and Peak Bus.

Other big decisions continue to plague policymakers—a unified area marketing and advertising program and affordable housing for workers in a relatively expensive housing market, to name two.

But like the first steps in a regional public transit system 30 years ago, today's challenges are merely tests of will to build on good ideas.

So sure is he of continued public support, Mountain Rides Operations Manager Jim Finch has a marketing motto.

"Put your seat in a (Mountain Rides) seat," he says to potential riders, "and try it one day a week."

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