Friday, November 19, 2010

Mountain Rides nixes plan for T.F. bus service

Board of directors decides demand no longer exists


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority has killed a plan to provide commuter bus service between the Magic and Wood River valleys and has elected instead to increases its vanpool services between the two valleys if the need exists. Photo by Mountain Express

The board of directors of Mountain Rides Transportation Authority on Wednesday pulled the plug on a plan to provide commuter bus service from Twin Falls and Shoshone to the Wood River Valley.

The vote was unanimous, with all eight directors giving thumbs down to any further planning for the service. Instead, the board voted to increase its existing van service between the Magic and Wood River valleys if ridership shows that the service is needed.

"We clearly want some service to Twin Falls—that's not debatable," board Chair Peter Everett said.

The proposed bus service had been in the planning stages for two years, but the board and Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller agreed at the monthly board meeting Wednesday that times have changed and the need no longer exists.

"Originally, it made a lot of sense—now it doesn't," said board member Nils Ribi, who is also a Sun Valley city councilman.

Miller explained that when planning was started, the existing vanpool service had eight vehicles shuttling passengers daily from the Magic Valley to the Wood River Valley. Since then, demand has dropped and fewer workers are coming to the valley from the south. Mountain Rides now operates five daily vanpools.

The vanpool service is not available for occasional one-way trips. Instead, it requires a monthly fee for daily transportation between the Magic and Wood River valleys.

At stake is the loss of up to $360,000 in federal grant money administered through the Idaho Transportation Department to get the service operating for three years. The grant funds also would require local matching funds of $180,000 for the first three years of operation.

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Miller has been under pressure from ITD for the past several months because of delays in getting the service started. It was originally planned to start last spring. The latest projection was that service could have started by the beginning of 2011.

But Miller told the board it would be better to lose the grant money altogether than to put a service in place that may not be able to pay for itself after the grant money was exhausted.

"I think we're being good stewards of this money by proceeding very carefully," he said.

Killed in the board decision was a proposal from the private bus carrier Salt Lake Express to operate the service for two years at $230,000 per year.

Board member Curtis Kemp, a Ketchum city councilman, said having a Salt Lake City bus company operating in the valley might be an affront to marketing efforts being developed by the new Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.

"The Salt Lake bus logo is extravagant," Kemp said. "The Mountain Rides logo would pale in comparison. I just think that for us to get a Salt Lake bus operating in our corridor with our funds—I'm totally against it."

Everett pointed out that the Twin Falls service might also be an affront to unemployed people in Blaine County.

"People up here are needing jobs, but we're shipping up people from Twin Falls—what are they going to say about that?" Everett asked.

- In other business, the board re-elected Everett as board chair and named Bellevue City Administrator Tom Blanchard as vice chair and Blaine County board representative Jim Jaquet as secretary.

The board also heard from Miller that ridership on the Hailey Circulator town bus service, which started in April, continues to grow and is approaching the goal of 1,000 riders per month. He reported that there were 935 rides in October.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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