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Mountain Rides Cuts Rides as it Searches for Drivers
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If you’ve ever had a hankering to sit behind a big wheel, Mountain Rides wants you.
   
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Mountain Rides has had to cut several routes, including its service to Twin Falls, for lack of bus drivers.

Mountain Rides has temporarily discontinued the bus service between Sun Valley and Twin Falls that was designed for those making non-emergency medical trips for radiation and other appointments. It also cut four southbound trips between 4 p.m. and midnight on the Valley Route that runs from Ketchum to Bellevue.

It cut the associated northbound runs, as well.

The problem is a lack of drivers, said Wally Morgus, executive director of Mountain Rides. When fully staffed, Mountain Rides has 18 full-time year-round drivers and 14-plus parttime seasonal drivers, many of whom handle the buses ferrying skiers to Bald Mountain.

Mountain Rides currently has 16 full-time year-round drivers and 11 parttime seasonal drivers to keep 14 buses on the road during winter and 10 in summer.

“We’ve been advertising for drivers since last spring,” said Morgus. “We were able to hire three drivers, each of whom quit shortly after joining us either because they got better paying jobs or jobs closer to home. We were able to hire another driver after Thanksgiving, and he’s in his final bit of training so he can take the Commercial Driver’s License test. Hopefully, he’ll pass it and we will have him in service soon.”

Mountain Rides posted on its Facebook page Monday that it was temporarily discontinuing its non-emergency medical transportation trips between Sun Valley and Twin Falls.

“It’s safe to say that it’s our intention to revisit the route and bring it back online, but that depends on our ability to find more drivers and get a full roster of drivers,” said Morgus. “It’s been our intention all along to continue the service as planned, but it’s gotten to the tipping pint where there’s a too heavy burden being put on our existing drivers who are having to pull a lot of overtime to cover shifts to keep all the service going.

“We had to make the difficult decision where to make cuts and adjustments and we decided that this was the best choice for now as it impacts the fewest possible riders,” he added. “We did not make any of thee decisions lightly but spent time digging into the numbers and an analysis, trying to make adjustments that would have the least impact on the fewest number of riders.”

Mountain Rides started the free service to Twin Falls in Spring 2021 for seniors and others who needed help getting to and from medical appointments. The bus service got a $30,000 grant from the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center to start the pilot program.

The bus service got grants totaling $120,000 in July of 2021 from St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation, Spur Foundation and St. Luke’s Magic Valley Community Health Improvement Fund to extend the program.

The bus, which can hold 32 riders, makes two round trips a day. It leaves Sun Valley at 8:16 a.m., arriving in Twin Falls just after 10. It returns to Sun Valley at noon, then departs Sun Valley again at 1:30 p.m., arriving in Twin Falls at 3:20 p.m. It leaves Twin Falls at 3:50 p.m., arriving back at Sun Valley at 5:40 p.m.

Though the bus service can prove a lifeline to people needing medical attention in Twin Falls, its ridership has been small since the onset. During the past three months, 88 riders have boarded the bus. Since they make a round trip, that means 44 unique riders.

There were six to 10 days during the past three months that there were no riders, Morgus said. And some of those using the bus are getting off at the Visitor Center, which indicates that some are not using the bus for non-emergency medical transportation.

That said, Julia Borrayo, a co-founder of the Shoshone Project which addresses needs in Shoshone, said that three people called her for rides on Monday after they learned of the discontinuation.

While there’s nothing in place to make up for the lost Twin Falls trips, there are other buses running in  proximity to the runs that were cut on the Valley route between Bellevue and Ketchum, Morgus said.

Bus drivers need to have a commercial driver’s license with passenger certification. They’re required by federal law to pass a drug test, and they must demonstrate the ability to drive a large vehicle.

“We also look for people who are able to provide excellent customer service—rapport and empathy,” Morgus said.

Morgus said Mountain Rides served more than a half-million riders during 2022, bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels of ridership. And it plans to continue its free fare, “hopefully, into perpetuation,” he added.

“Our zero fare has been much appreciated, and we plan on doing it as long as we possibly can,” he said.

MORE ELECTRIC BUSES ENROUTE

Mountain Rides expects to receive seven new electric busses between Feb. 15 and April 15. They originally hoped to take ownership of them in July and August, but the manufacturer ran into supply chain issues.

The bus service currently has four electric buses, which cost between 35 and 40 cents a mile to run. Diesel buses are currently costing 62 cents a mile to run with diesel selling between $3 and $3.50 a gallon.

“We’ve had no problems with the electric buses in extreme cold,” said Wally Morgus, Mountain Rides’ executive director. “There is a drain on the battery for the heating system during extreme cold. But we’re doing a very good job of managing the bus deployments so we can get them into the depot from time to time during the day to top off the batteries. We’ve had nothing but positives with them.”

 

 

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