The Mountain Rides Transportation Authority saw passenger loads approach pre-pandemic levels during the months of October and November—and that trend is continuing as the valley heads into peak tourism season, MRTA Executive Director Wally Morgus reported to the Hailey City Council on Monday.

Morgus said that in Mountain Rides’ fiscal 2021 year—between October 2020 and September 2021—the agency saw a 5% decrease in ridership on its three core routes compared to fiscal 2020. That’s a difference of nearly 17,000 riders, dropping from about 318,000 passengers in fiscal 2020 to 301,300 in fiscal 2021.

In October and November, however, Mountain Rides’ popular Valley Route was back to 99.8% of its 2019 ridership levels and the Hailey Route was at 76%, he said.

“Those are pretty strong figures against the backdrop of similar agencies’ numbers,” Morgus said. “A lot of agencies across the nation are still in the 50 or 60% range, if that.”

The north valley Blue Route, which reached 68% of its pre-pandemic ridership levels in fiscal 2021, did not bounce back as strongly. But according to MRTA Transit Operations Manager Jamie Canfield, the route has since turned over a new leaf due to a large influx of passengers traveling from downtown Ketchum to Sun Valley late at night.

Most late-night passengers on the Blue Route have been Sun Valley Resort employees headed home from the bars, Canfield reported during a board meeting Wednesday. Early Wednesday morning, he said there were “between 40 and 50 people” at the Wells Fargo stop in Ketchum boarding the last 1:40 a.m. bus. Several riders were left behind, he said, but picked up later.

Canfield said one solution to accommodate the crowds is having bus drivers encourage riders earlier on in the night to take the previous 12:40 a.m. bus home. He added that while drivers can continue runs past 2 a.m. at their own discretion, riders shouldn’t count on it.

“I’ve had to make three runs before because there were between 90 and 100 people at the Wells Fargo stop,” he said. “I couldn’t in good conscience leave 40 people behind on a cold, frigid night.”

Canfield and other MRTA board members, including mayors Neil Bradshaw of Ketchum and Peter Hendricks of Sun Valley, recently sat down with Ketchum and Sun Valley Police Department officers to better understand trends in Ketchum nightlife. The problem, Canfield said, is that heightened late-night activity has occurred “across the week” without a predictable pattern, he said.

“In years past, we knew that Sunday night was when the surge was going to happen,” he said. “This year it’s not so clear.”

Bradshaw recommended that people call 911 or the Sheriff’s Office if they or someone else is unable to return home safely.

“Let’s continue to monitor and react accordingly,” he said. “Until we see some incidents, I don’t think we should be worried.”

In other Mountain Rides news

  • The agency continues to ask riders to wear masks through March 18, 2022 per Federal Transit Administration policy. “We imagine that probably won’t end in March and will be extended again,” Morgus said. Mountain Rides also asks that riders remain seated to reduce passenger loads.
  • The agency maintained zero-fare service on all routes in 2021 and plans to continue free service for the next 3 to 5 years, Morgus reported. That includes the Galena Route, which returns on Thursday, Dec 30.
  • The Gold Route from Dollar Mountain to River Run and the Bronze Route connecting Warm Springs, River Run and Sun Valley Village returned on Saturday, Dec 11. Mountain Rides also added an extra southbound afternoon bus between 2:30 and 3 p.m. on the Valley Route to accommodate students from Hemingway School.
  • Morgus reported that more passengers are using the agency’s free non-emerency medical transportation (NEMT) route to Twin Falls for non-medical purposes. Several workers from Sun Valley on J-1 visas have been using the service to travel to the Twin Falls social security office, he said. 
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