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For the week of January 3 through January 9, 2001

Communing while commuting

"I think itís a testament to the fact that it can work."

Beth Callister, Wood River Rideshare director

Express Staff Writer

Under a slate sky in Shoshone on Thursday morning, three Snake River Plain residents riding in a modern sedan turned onto Highway 75 and joined the sparse-but-steady stream of headlights heading north to the Wood River Valley.

Three weeks ago, they each made the same trek, but did it alone.

Theyíre one of the products of the Wood River Valleyís budding Wood River Rideshare program, a taxpayer-funded service designed to bring folks together who work and live in close proximity to one another.

Now, two cars fewer occupy Ketchumís limited number of parking spaces each day, and two cars fewer occupy Highway 75ís overflowing rush-hour traffic lanes.

Stacy Nunez, 36, lives in Filer, near Twin Falls, and works as a paralegal for the Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley law firm. Sharon Luntsford, 60, lives in Shoshone and works for Edward Jones Investments. Gary Rasmussen, 48, lives in Gooding and is a graphic designer for the Idaho Mountain Express.

All three workplaces are in Ketchum inside a four-block radius. All three commuters said they doubt they ever would have met one another were it not for Wood River Rideshare.

"We donít have any common ground anywhere, any of us," Luntsford said.

Except, perhaps, for that ribbon of state highway connecting their homes to their jobs.

Each morning, the three meet at Luntsfordís home in Shoshone. They alternate drive times and the vehicle they drive.

The boons of traveling together are too many to count, the three commuters agreed.

"We gain every advantage," Nunez said as she navigated through a bluish morning fog in the Timmerman Hills. "The conversations are nice. It saves miles on our cars, [and] I like being able to look around [when someone else is driving]."

"Time goes by faster," Rasmussen added.

Meeting other people, keeping each other company and keeping each other awake are plusses, too, Luntsford said.

"The only disadvantage," Nunez lamented jovially, "is Iím a music fan. Itís hard to find anything everyone likes."

She said sheís also given up listening to books on tape, listening to taped Spanish lessons and a few other drive-time hobbies.

Rather than music or Spanish lessons, the car was filled with consistent, friendly conversation and jokesóhardly a difficult tradeoff.

Wood River Rideshare is in its third month, and 63 Highway 75 commuters have signed up for the program, though signing up does not require them to participate in ride sharing.

"I am very excited," said Beth Callister, the programís director, "especially for these three people. They live the farthest away [from Ketchum], and they were able to get together.

"Itís definitely not for everyone, and itís not always easy, but the fact that they did it and theyíre having a good timeóthatís awesome. I think itís a testament to the fact that it can work."

When a person registers with Wood River Rideshare, his name, home, work destination and work hours are entered into a database. A list of people who live and work in the same areas is then sent to the registered person along with a questionnaire designed to help iron out wrinkles in the process of getting together and making it work.

It is then up to the prospective ride sharers to contact one another.

For the three Snake River Plain residents, itís a process that worked pretty easily and has resulted in an operable arrangement.

The traffic during Thursdayís morning and evening commutes with Nunez, Luntsford and Rasmussen wasnít too bad, nor has it been bad during the three weeks theyíve been commuting together, they said. But it hasnít always been, and wonít always be.

Nunez recalled a daunting six-hour drive from Filer to Ketchum in snowy conditions, and Luntsford said a drive from Ketchum to Shoshone took her three hours when St. Lukeís was working on the highway near the new McHanville hospital.

When traffic isnít flowing smoothly, several fewer cars on the road will help, Callister said.

But thereís something more to ride sharing than saving money, reducing wear on cars or helping alleviate traffic on the over-traveled highway, the three agreed.

Itís an opportunity to relax while having friendly conversations among people who would never otherwise have come to know each other.


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