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For the week of January 22 - 28, 2003

News

Michael: Peak Bus pulls its weight?

SV Council reviews funding of commuter bus


"Public transportation doesn’t pay for itself anywhere. What is the value of taking 1,000 cars off the road in a month? What is the value to employers? What is the value of providing transportation for kids?"

— SARAH MICHAEL, Blaine County commissioner


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael last week told Sun Valley city officials that the Peak Bus commuter program is having a positive impact on the Wood River Valley and deserves financial support from local cities.

Michael addressed the Sun Valley City Council Tuesday, Jan. 14, in an effort to convince council members that a $20,000 contribution from the city to support the bus is indeed helping valley residents and businesses.

Sun Valley made the $20,000 contribution out of its 2002-2003 fiscal year budget and will almost certainly be asked to help fund the program in future years.

In her status report on the efficiency of the Peak Bus, Michael said the bus "consistently has 1,500 riders a month" and reached a peak in use last summer when rider numbers escalated to 2,000 people per month.

"It’s clearly promoting services, and has the support of elected officials and citizens," Michael said.

Michael noted that capacity on the commuter bus is generally "between 22 and 30 percent," while the nationwide norm for capacity on commuter buses is 25 percent.

The Peak Bus is operated by the Wood River Rideshare nonprofit organization. The bus generally makes three round trips from Bellevue to Ketchum and Sun Valley each morning, and three round trips each afternoon.

Council President Latham Williams asked Michael if the bus was successful enough to warrant continued funding. "If it cost a million dollars, would you support it?" he said. "Is it worth it?"

Michael said she believes the program is a bona fide success, despite the fact that it does not pay for itself with passenger fees and sales of long-term passes. "Public transportation doesn’t pay for itself anywhere," she said. "What is the value of taking 1,000 cars off the road in a month? What is the value to employers? What is the value of providing transportation for kids?"

Michael acknowledged that promoters of the program "can be doing better," and are researching ways to increase rider numbers on the bus.

Beth Callister, executive director of Wood River Rideshare, assured council members that a substantial demand for commuter programs and public transportation does exist in the Wood River Valley. "On average, what we’re seeing is that the demand is out there," she said.

In discussing the city’s 2002-2003 budget last summer, council members were not unanimously in favor of granting $20,000 to Wood River Rideshare to specifically support the Peak Bus service. Councilman Kevin Laird at the time questioned whether the number of riders on the bus justified the amount of money spent to keep it operating.

In addition to operating the Peak Bus, Wood River Rideshare also organizes and promotes other smaller-scale commuter and ride-sharing programs.

The organization is funded by local cities, the county, the state of Idaho and revenues from passenger fees.

The city of Hailey has contributed $2000 to enter into a "contract for services" with Wood River Rideshare that will last through next September. Half of the amount was directed specifically toward supporting the Peak Bus.

(Cities typically enter into contracts for specific services with organizations they intend to contribute money to because cities cannot simply grant a no-strings-attached cash donation.)

The city of Ketchum has allocated $30,000 for the Peak Bus for the current fiscal year, and the city of Bellevue has contributed $500.

Blaine County has contributed $30,000 for the program, and a state grant has provided an additional $21,000, Callister said.

Jack Sibbach, marketing and public relations director for Sun Valley Co., said company officials believe the bus is a benefit to the community. "We as a company support the bus… We think it’s a good program," he said.

Sibbach said Sun Valley Co. last year purchased approximately 35 long-term passes for its employees, and company officials have concluded that the passes have been well used.

(Idaho Mountain Express reporter Dana DuGan contributed to this report.)

 

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