Following a drop in use two years ago, Mountain Rides Transportation Authority buses carried 12 percent more people last year than they did in 2009.
The organization's buses carried 420,720 passengers in 2010, compared to 374,380 in 2009. The numbers were released at Wednesday's monthly board meeting.
"Hopefully, it's a sign that we're on the right track as an organization, and hopefully that things are improving in the community economically," said Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller.
Mountain Rides provides free bus service in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area and in Hailey. The organization offers paid bus rides between the north and south valleys and paid commuter van service between the Magic and Wood River valleys.
The largest increase in 2010 was on the organization's Valley service, which runs daily between the Ketchum-Sun Valley area and the Hailey and Bellevue areas. Mountain Rides showed a 26 percent increase in ridership on the service in 2010 with 132,108 rides, compared to 104,822 in 2009. The standard fare for a one-way trip is $3.
Ridership on the Ketchum-Sun Valley town service was up 5 percent in 2010, with 257,493 rides on the free service, compared to 244,442 in 2009.
A year-to-year comparison was not available for the Hailey town service because the service was only started in April. However, Miller noted that the service has now reached its goal of providing 1,000 rides per month.
The free Hailey bus service started on April 5 and provided 368 rides that month. In May 2, the service's first full month of operation, Mountain Rides recorded 611 rides, and by December the number had jumped to 1,074.
The only Mountain Rides operation showing a decline in ridership was the Vanpool service between the Magic and Wood River valleys, where ridership dropped in 2010 by 2 percent. Miller attributed the decline to fewer workers commuting to Blaine County from the Magic Valley. The service costs riders $120 per month.
The overall increase in ridership in 2010 follows a decrease in 2009, when total ridership was down 8 percent from 2008.
"We were down because of the poor economy," Miller said in an interview. "Whether that means fewer jobs or tourists, there was just less activity. We saw it in the resort numbers and we saw it in the skier numbers. But hopefully, things are improving."
Miller also attributed increased ridership in 2010 to changes the organization made in services within the past few years.
"In 2008 and 2009 we did a lot of fleet changes and reconfigured our system and we're starting to see it pay off," he said.
Recent changes in operations included adding the Hailey town service last year and greatly expanding the Ketchum-Sun Valley service in late 2008. Whereas Mountain Rides previously operated only two routes in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, the system expanded to six routes for the 2008 skier season. The organization continues to provide the expanded service, offering six routes during peak tourist seasons and three routes during slack periods.
Also in late 2008, Mountain Rides took over the "yellow bus" skier service previously provided by Sun Valley Co.
In addition to increased services, Miller said, ridership also depends on the economy and the price of fuel.
"If we see the economy continue to improve and fuel prices continue to creep up, I think we'll see continued improvement in ridership," he said. "It's a system that's working. This is the best ridership we've seen in recent history."
Terry Smith: email@example.com