Friday, October 25, 2013

District renews Mountain Rides agreement

Partnership provides free bus rides for students and staff

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County School District students crowd aboard a northbound Mountain Rides Valley Route bus at the bus stop near Albertsons grocery story in Hailey. Mountain Rides has an agreement with the School District that provides for free student rides. Photo by Roland Lane

     The Blaine County School District board of trustees on Wednesday unanimously approved renewing an agreement with Mountain Rides Transportation Authority that provides free bus rides for district staff and students.

     Per the agreement, approved at a special school board meeting, the district will pay Mountain Rides $23,500 for the 2013-2014 school year. Trustee Kathryn Graves said the payment is the same as it was for last school year and that she appreciated that the price wasn’t raised, even though student and staff ridership continues to increase.

     The same price is even guaranteed, per the agreement, for the 2014-2015 school year.

     The agreement allows free staff and student rides only on school days and is not valid for weekends, holidays or times when school is not in session.

     “I would like to say thank you,” board Chairman Paul Bates told Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller. “I think this has been a really strong partnership.”

Overall, the kids have been behaving well
and if there’s any problems
they’ve been really respectful of our requests.”

Jason Miller
Mountain Rides

     “The partnership has been a great success from our perspective,” said Miller. “I think Mountain Rides provides a great opportunity for students and staff to get to and from school activities.”

     The free rides apply to the Mountain Rides Valley Route, which runs daily between the north valley and the south valley. While fares vary, depending on how far someone rides, the maximum fare for a one-way trip between Bellevue and the Ketchum-Sun Valley area is $4.

     Miller told the board that the organization recorded 27,216 staff and student rides for the 2011-2012 school year and 29,216 rides for the 2012-2013 school year. He said ridership for this year is tracking 10 percent higher than it did last year and will likely exceed 30,000 rides.

     Although more students are using Mountain Rides for transportation, the situation has not led to fewer trips for the district’s own school bus fleet.

     “The partnership with Mountain Rides is a benefit for staff, students and parents because it offers added flexibility and options in addition to the district transportation program,” district Communications Director Heather Crocker wrote in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express. “It does not reduce the number of (school bus) trips because the bus needs to follow a regular route whether there are 12 students or six students at a stop.

     “There has been a lot of positive feedback from parents, students and staff who value the flexibility of using Mountain Rides,” Crocker wrote. “I know that some students use Mountain Rides to get to school earlier than the school bus allows so that they can participate in clubs, sports and other activities. There are staff members who have been using Mountain Rides to and from work each day for years.”

     About 80 percent of the rides are by students, rather than staff, and the majority of those riders are students at Wood River Middle School in northern Hailey. The situation has led to overcrowding on both northbound and southbound buses that leave bus stops after school at about 3:30 p.m. The majority of the students board north and southbound buses at that time that are on either side of state Highway 75 near Albertsons grocery store.

     Miller said in an interview after the school board meeting that Mountain Rides has added an overflow bus for northbound riders at that time and that overcrowding on the southbound bus is alleviated by a Hailey circulator bus that arrives at the southbound stop near Albertsons at about that same time.

     “Even with those extra buses, we’re full,” Miller said. “It is challenging at times.”

     Miller said regular commuters have complained in the past about the noise level from the students and the crowding, but added “those complaints have gone down.”

     He acknowledged that there are occasional discipline problems with the students on a Mountain Rides bus, but said that the organization has the support of Wood River Middle School Principal Fritz Peters.

     “He said if we need to kick someone off the bus, then he’ll support us,” Miller said. “Overall, the kids have been behaving well and if there’s any problems they’ve been really respectful of our requests.”

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