Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tourists overwhelm ‘Story Tour’

Bus organization takes steps to correct overcrowding

Express Staff Writer

Some 40 tourists listen during a Mountain Rides Transportation Authority “Story Tour” bus ride on Friday. Photo by David N. Seelig

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority got more than it bargained for when more than 40 visitors climbed onto a Mountain Rides bus Friday afternoon for a crowded, hot and uncomfortable hour-long guided tour of the Ketchum and Sun Valley areas.

The seated capacity of the bus is 28, and the official tour count was 35. But even tour host Jim Jaquet, a member of the Mountain Rides board of directors, acknowledged that the actual number of riders was somewhere between 40 and 50.

"You couldn't turn around to count," Jaquet said, acknowledging that the tour was not a pleasant experience, even for him.

The event was the fourth running of the newly inaugurated Mountain Rides "Story Tour," which picks up tourists at 3:45 p.m. on Fridays at the Ketchum Visitors Center on Sun Valley Road.

There were two obvious safety violations on last Friday's overcrowded bus. As many as three people stood at times beyond a clearly marked do-not-cross line at the front of the bus and crowded into the driver's compartment, possibly obscuring his vision to the right front and right side of the bus.

Farther back, two teenage boys stood for much of the tour beyond another safety line intended to keep people from leaning on the bus backdoor.

The air conditioning was turned off for part of the tour after one woman complained it was too cold. Air conditioning was turned back on later after another woman complained it was too hot.

Jaquet was forced to stand for the tour, holding on to a strap or rail with one hand, while holding notes and a thermos with the other while delivering his history speech.

"We'll make sure it doesn't happen again," Jaquet said later. "If need be, we'll just have to say we can't take any more."

Acknowledging the safety violations, Jaquet was willing to take the blame.

"It probably was my responsibility since I was the tour guide," he said.

Apprised of the situation, by Monday morning, Mountain Rides Operations Manager Jim Finch had figured out a solution.

"To avoid an uncomfortable Story Tour and to accommodate regular riders on the Blue Route, we are going to limit the number of attendees to 25 on Blue 1 at 3:45 p.m. to Warm Springs," Finch wrote in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express. "If more than 25 people show up, the balance of people will go over to The Elephant's Perch stop and ride Blue 2 to Sun Valley and have a guided tour opposite the regular group. This way we can accommodate more participants comfortably and safely."

Finch was referring to the Mountain Rides Blue Route, the main bus service in the Ketchum and Sun Valley areas. The Story Tour uses the regular Blue Route buses for the tours.

The Blue Route runs through Ketchum and up to Warm Springs, then back through Ketchum to Sun Valley and Elkhorn before returning to Ketchum.

For the Story Tour, Jaquet and other hosts talk about the rich history of the area, including the development of Sun Valley, the area's importance to writer Ernest Hemingway, the effects of sheep and mining industries and other historical items of note.

Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller acknowledged that the number of riders for Friday's tour was unexpected, noting that the previous record high was 14.

"Obviously, we were not prepared for that many people," Miller said. "We're a victim of our own success. I think it's a positive thing that there's that much interest."

Terry Smith:

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