Friday, January 20, 2012

Mountain Rides almost reaches ridership record

Though rider numbers declined in December


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Fewer folks hopped on the bus in December than Mountain Rides Transportation Authority had anticipated, but the organization still experienced the highest ridership in 2011 that it has in the past 18 years.

The numbers, released at Wednesday's meeting of the Mountain Rides board of directors, show that ridership last month fell 8.23 percent compared to ridership in December 2010. However, total ridership for 2011 was listed at 482,259, up 15 percent from 2010 and the second highest yearly total since 1994, when 495,783 riders hopped on the bus during the first year that records were kept.

Mountain Rides has in the past attributed the high numbers in 1994 to a higher skier count on Bald Mountain.

Organization managers were hoping to set a new record this year, but it didn't quite materialize.

"I'm a little disappointed, but we got close," Operations Manager Jim Finch told the board. "For the month of December, we were down a little bit, but we all know there was a downturn in the tourist industry. But it's snowing now, so we may see it pick up."

December was the only month in 2011 when the number of Mountain Rides passengers was down compared to 2010.

Finch reported that the organization recorded 50,825 rides in December 2011 compared to 55,383 rides in December 2010. Ridership was down in December 2011 in three of four of the organization's main commuter service areas. It dropped 8.9 percent on the Ketchum-Sun Valley area bus service system, 7.2 percent on the Valley service connecting the north and south valleys and 38 percent on the vanpool service between the Wood River and Magic valleys.

However, ridership jumped 62 percent on the Mountain Rides Hailey circulator system, with 1,740 rides in December 2011 compared to 1,074 in December 2010.

"It was a disappointing December, but it was an outstanding 2011," Finch said.

"This past year really was incredible," said Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller. "That number is really a reflection of a lot of things that need to get done. I'm really grateful for the work our folks have done."

"Congratulations to staff for making 2011 such a successful year," said board Chair Peter Everett. "We nearly got that 1994 record."

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Bike share plan tabled

In other business, the board tabled action on a new Hailey bike-share program at the advice of Mountain Rides attorney Adam King, who said the proposed contract still needs "significant redlining."

The contract being considered is from Social Bicycles, a New York City company that has developed a bike-share program that uses GPS tracking and an on-bike lock system that eliminates the need for a central checkout hub.

"Some of this is pretty heavy-handed and they may not intend to be that way," said King, referring to the proposed contract. "It needs work. I'm not sure what the timing is on the contract but I don't think anyone's going to be riding bicycles until April or May.

"I can get something done pretty quickly, paring it down, and we'll see how they feel about it. A lot of these aren't deal breakers. Sometimes they use a form and it's just in there and we ought to be able to reach an accommodation."

Mountain Rides intends to have the program up and running in Hailey by early summer. Funding is through $20,000 earmarked for the program as part of a $472,000 Climate Showcase Community Grant awarded to the city of Hailey in 2011 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the current proposal from Social Bicycles, Mountain Rides would be able to buy 16 bicycles for the program, each equipped with its own lock system and GPS tracker. Social Bicycles would also provide computer hosting, installation and maintenance services.

To use a bicycle, a rider would have to buy a membership. Tentative plans call for a 30-day membership to cost $15 and a season membership $30.

The $20,000 grant money and membership fees are expected to keep the program running for up to three years.

"At the end of three years, it's something we could continue or not," said Mountain Rides Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator Eric Grootveld. "If we end up with a shortage of bikes, that would probably mean that our member revenue is up and we could go out and buy more."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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