Friday, September 28, 2012

Mountain Rides approves 2013 transit budget

Bus service largely to maintain status quo

Express Staff Writer

The Mountain Rides Transportation Authority board has approved a fiscal 2013 budget for bus service of $2.37 million, a small increase over last year’s budget. 

Operations during 2012 absorbed the last stimulus dollars that Mountain Rides received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the city of Sun Valley is planning to reduce its share of support for Mountain Rides by about $25,000 in 2013. Even so, other sources of revenue are making up for the loss of those revenue sources. They include federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP 21) money and income from expanding shuttle service and charters.

“We will have some service adjustments given [changes in] local funding,” Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said in an interview. “Sun Valley made cuts across the board and we were part of that.”

Miller said Mountain Rides will adopt a plan that describes how much service to provide for each route in the system.

“Apart from some adjustment given that decrease in [Sun Valley] funding, service will look very much like it does now,” he said.

Miller said the service has seen an increase in fare and advertising revenue that will eventually help to expand Valley Route service.

“We’re very close to having an hourly frequency,” he said. “Anytime we can fully fill that out, we’re closer to our goals.”

Until such time as funds provide for all-day hourly service on the valley route, Mountain Rides will continue to balance that goal with demand for expanded evening and weekend service as well. 

“We’ve got to balance the funds that we have with the service needed,” he said. “And, with the requests that we have out there from individual organizations, municipalities and individuals, we try to come up with a service plan that can be effective and meet those needs.”

In other business during its meeting Thursday, Sept. 20, the Mountain Rides board of directors expressed relief to hear that four late-model Navistar International vehicles are under an extended warranty.

The buses have had to be taken out of service regularly due to engine troubles. Mechanics in Twin Falls have been working hard under warranty to solve mechanical problems with the vehicles, Miller said, adding that he hopes the fixes are for the long haul.

“You don’t like to see engines rated for 350,000 miles failing at 50,000 miles,” he said. “It’s been a frustrating situation, taking vehicles out of service for longer periods of time.”

Barring any more major mechanical issues, major work for Mountain Rides in 2013 will include infrastructure improvements. Some $1.4 million in federal grants has been awarded to the bus authority for three projects: a bus depot in Ketchum, a new bus stop at East Fork Road and a planned South Valley Transportation Center just south of the intersection of Gannett Road and state Highway 75 in Bellevue.

Mountain Rides hopes to hone in on a final set of choices for the planned bus depot in Ketchum by the end of the year.

When bidding ended at 3 p.m. Friday for the East Fork bus stop project, only one bid had been received, and the process has been continued until spring 2013. Miller said additional bids for the project would be opened in February or March to accommodate an easier, less costly building season.


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