Sunday, April 18, 2021
Free Bus Service to Twin Falls Starts Monday
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A Mountain Rides bus makes its way over the Perrine Bridge near Twin Falls during a test drive to that city.
   
Sunday, April 4, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Jen Smith has long thought of the blue and white Mountain Rides buses as a nice amenity for workers commuting to work and for tourists shuttling between their hotel and Sun Valley ski area.

Now, she’s seeing them as a lifeline for Wood River Valley residents who need medical treatment in Twin Falls that can’t be accessed in the Wood River Valley.

Mountain Rides will launch a pilot service providing three free bus rides weekly to Twin Falls for those people and others beginning Monday, April 5.

Smith’s wife, Heather, is a military veteran who developed kidney disease while serving in the U.S. Air Force during Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia.

She had to travel to Twin Falls three days a week to receive dialysis treatment due to kidney failure this past year. And, while she now cleans her blood at home via a machine the size of a large microwave, she still needs to go to Twin Falls twice a month for blood tests and checkups.

“This gives us another option, takes some of the pressure off,” Smith said “Earlier, we had a friend of friends lined up who was willing to take Heather down while she did errands. But, when COVID hit, that came to an end. Fortunately, the Sawtooth Botanical Garden where I work allowed me to drive Heather down three times a week and I’d get a hot spot in the park and sit there with my dog while I took care of emails and calls. But it was an all-day affair.

“I have elderly friends, too, who need medical treatment and this is such a wonderful service for them.”

Despite the many amenities St. Luke’s Wood River offers, it does not have everything the community needs. Men have to hit the road five days a week for nine weeks of radiation to treat prostate cancer. Others need to go to Twin Falls for specialized appointments like cataract surgery.

Some can’t drive themselves because of their medical conditions or because of the medical treatment they’re receiving. Some may not want to drive themselves during winter weather.

St. Luke’s Center for Community Health occasionally offers gas vouchers for those needing to make frequent trips, but they don’t begin to cover all the expenses. Programs like LINC, or Living Independent Network Corporation, can sometimes find volunteer drivers to help with some of the trips.

And the Salt Lake Express bus costs about $70 per round trip. One man estimates he will save $180 a week in bus fare and tips with the new service.

Mountain Rides will offer free buses Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The southbound bus will start at the Dollar Circle at Sun Valley Resort at 8:15 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and make stops in Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue, Timmerman Junction and Shoshone before arriving at the Twin Falls Visitor Center and St. Luke’s Magic Valley hospital at 10:09 a.m. and 3:23 p.m.

The northbound bus will leave Twin Falls at 10:15 a.m. and 3:50 p.m., arriving back in Sun Valley at 12:08 p.m. and 5:42 p.m.

While the bus service was developed for those needing non-emergency medical transport, it can be used by those commuting to work, shoppers and others. Riders need not sign up. It will operate on a first-come, first-serve basis and will be wheelchair accessible.

LINC will try to have taxis waiting at the Visitors Center for those who need transportation to doctor’s offices not at the hospital, said Christina Erling, LINC’s Mobility and independent living specialist. Those wishing to arrange such transportation should call 208-733-1712, extension 106.

Erling said LINC also hopes to figure out a way to take Gooding residents to the bus stop in Shoshone.

Cece Osborn, Mountain Rides’ mobility and safe routes coordinator, says Mountain Rides has been  trying to gather hard data on just how many people could use the service for more than a year without success. They hope to learn more once they get up and running.

But, anecdotally, there are definitely people who can benefit from the service, she said.

“At this moment it’s a mystery how many people might show up, but we’re excited to try it,” said Erling. “We’re excited to see people get the medical needs they need down here. And we know this will help with expenses. We hope it can give families peace of mind, help them get back to normalcy as much as possible.”

The program originally had enough money to go eight weeks from April 5 through the end of May. But St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation kicked in enough funds to extend the pilot period an additional seven months through the end of 2021.

Mountain Rides is seeking additional funding to extend the pilot program for a full 1.5 years. The program costs $13,000 a month to operate, or $156,000 a year, said Osborn.

Carrie Diamond, assistant director of the National Aging & Disability Transportation Center, said the pilot program started with a $30,000 federally funded public assistance grant Mountain Rides received in October through a competitive application process.

“We’re so pleased with the progress they’re making on this, and we’re really excited about the start up next week,” she said. “Transportation for non-emergency medical needs is something that’s universal. What makes this unique is that it’s an 85-mile trip from one community to another, which poses particular challenges to people to get care.”

SOUTHBOUND BUS

Sun Valley-Dollar Circle 8:15 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Ketchum-Limelight Hotel 8:24 a.m. and 1:38 p.m.

St. Luke’s Wood River Hospital 8:28 a.m. and 1:42 p.m.

Hailey Park ‘n Ride at River and Bullion streets 8:41 a.m. and 1:55 p.m.

Bellevue at Main and Spruce streets 8:50 a.m. and 2:04 p.m.

Timmerman Junction Rest Stop 9:03 a.m. and 2:17 p.m.

Shoshone at Sawtooth Market 9:34 a.m. and 2:48 p.m.

Twin Falls Visitor Center 10:01 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Plaza 1 10:09 a.m. and 3:23 p.m.

NORTHBOUND BUS

St. Luke’s Magic Valley 10:15 a.m. and 3:50 p.m.

Twin Falls Visitor Center 10:23 a.m. and 3:58 p.m.

Shoshone Sawtooth Market 10:50 a.m. and 4:25 p.m.

Timmerman Junction Rest Stop 11:21 a.m. and 4:56 p.m.

Bellevue, Main and Spruce 11:35 a.m. and 5:09 p.m.

Hailey, River and Bullion 11:44 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

St. Luke’s Wood River 11:56 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Ketchum at Kentwood Lodge 12:01 p.m. and 5:35 p.m.

Sun Valley Dollar Circle 12:08 p.m. and 5:42 p.m.

Questions? Contact 208-788-7433 or visit www.mountainrides.org

To schedule ground transportation in Twin Falls, call LINC at 208-733-1712, extension 106. For door-through-door transportation in the Wood River Valley, contact Ramona Duke at the Senior Connection at 208-788-3468.

 

 

 

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