Mountain Rides Transportation Authority is showing a decline in ridership of 5 percent in the first half of 2012 compared to the previous year. But officials don't seem particularly concerned with the decline, since 2011 was a near-record year for riders.
According to numbers released at Wednesday's meeting of the Mountain Rides board of directors, 268,586 passengers took advantage of the organization's bus and van service as of June 30, compared to 282,958 for the first half of 2011.
Operations Manager Jim Finch said the biggest decline this year has been on the Valley service, which provides paid-fare bus service between Ketchum and Sun Valley in the north and Hailey and Bellevue in the south. Ridership on that service was down 18 percent in June.
Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller attributed the Valley service decline to massive reconstruction work currently underway on Woodside Boulevard in southeast Hailey. Woodside Boulevard, normally a main corridor for bus service in Hailey, has been disrupted by the construction, causing confusion to would-be riders, Miller said, adding that once construction is complete, it will provide a beneficial corridor for Mountain Rides.
"I'm of the opinion that it's short-term pain for a lot of gain," he said.
Ridership in June was also down 6 percent for the free bus service in the Sun Valley-Ketchum area.
On the other hand, ridership on the Mountain Rides vanpool service, which provides commuter transportation between the Wood River and Magic valleys, was up 14 percent over last year.
Finch said four new vans were added to the service Tuesday to transport commuting Sun Valley Co. employees, bringing the service to a total of 13 vans.
Take the 'Story Tour'
In other business, Mountain Rides board member Jim Jaquet announced that the newly inaugurated "Story Tour" service is off to a good start.
Started three weeks ago, the service provides a free hour-long tour of the Ketchum-Sun Valley areas for both residents and visitors. A bus leaves the Ketchum Visitors Center at the corner of East Avenue and Sun Valley Road in Ketchum at 3:45 p.m. each Friday and follows the Mountain Rides Blue Route that winds through Elkhorn, Sun Valley, Ketchum and Warm Springs.
Each tour has a host or hostess, with the service now being provided on alternative weeks by Jaquet, a former Ketchum city administrator, and his wife, state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.
"We talk about the history when we go to the sights," Jim Jaquet said.
The Jaquets have a friendly competition about which is the better host or hostess.
"There were 14 people last week with Wendy," Jim Jaquet said. "I hope to beat that record this week when I host it.
He added that riders are not obligated to take the entire hour-long tour.
"They're not captive, they can get on and off," he said.
Jim Jaquet also announced that an Idaho Mountain Express reporter and photographer intend to take the Story Tour this Friday to do a newspaper story.
He was asked if he intends to count them in his total in his competition with his wife.
"Of course," he said.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org