14-12-19 Mountain Rides 6 Roland.jpg

Many visiting skiers use Mountain Rides buses to get to Bald and Dollar mountains.

The Mountain Rides Transportation Authority will discontinue after-midnight service on the Blue Route during summer if the city of Ketchum cuts funding by $65,000.

That was the consensus of Mountain Rides staff and board members during a meeting Wednesday afternoon, when they discussed the agency’s service plan for fiscal 2020.

The Blue Route connects Warm Spring to the Sun Valley Village via downtown Ketchum, and will run until 2 a.m. this summer and winter.

With Ketchum possibly cutting Mountain Rides’ funding from $665,000 to $600,000 in fiscal 2020, Executive Director Wally Morgus outlined how that will affect the agency’s hours of services.

Mountain Rides expects to have 31,916 hours of service in fiscal 2020, costing a total of $2,904,400. Contributions from Ketchum, Sun Valley, Blaine County, Hailey and Bellevue will help pay for that service, in addition to federal grant funding.

The expected contribution from Sun Valley is $352,500, Hailey’s is $82,000, Blaine County’s is $182,000 and Bellevue’s is $6,500

Morgus started the discussion with a caveat that the local governments haven’t finished their budgets yet, and the amounts could change.

He identified two routes that would change in fiscal 2020—the Blue Route and the Red Route. He said the Red Route service would be curtailed in west Ketchum, but board members objected to that proposal. Morgus said he would revise it.

However, the after-midnight service on the Blue Route in the summer remains on the cutting board. The proposed cut from Ketchum would be multiplied by a loss of federal grant funding—the $65,000 cut would turn into a $134,000 loss of revenue, he said.

He said targeting the late-night service on the Blue Route was an effective means of limiting the overall effect of the funding cut.

“We can essentially absorb the funding cut and not hack away at service levels,” Morgus said.

Electric buses

The board listened to a presentation from Blake Fonnesbeck, a consultant who focuses on alternative fuel technologies. Fonnesbeck researched three options for Mountain Rides to consider as the agency prepares to switch over to clean-energy-powered buses, and away from diesel.

The options were compressed natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric. Fonnesbeck recommended that the board pursue purchasing battery-electric buses.

Mountain Rides has received significant grant funding to help purchase the buses. It has $3.7 million in state and federal grant funds to support the program.

Fonnesbeck offered a presentation that said buying busses run on compressed natural gas would cost $550,000 per bus, not counting startup costs that include fueling equipment.

Hydrogen would cost $1.2 million per bus, not counting the fueling equipment.

Battery electric buses would cost $750,000 per bus, in addition to the charging station.

Fonnesbeck noted that Mountain Rides will phase in the purchases, so it wouldn’t buy all the electric buses at once.

Morgus said the agency may have seven to eight electric buses in the next three years. Overall, the program would look to acquire 20 buses, Fonnesbeck said.

Morgus said the cost of ownership for electric buses would be lower than diesel, though board member Rick Webking noted that it wouldn’t be dramatically lower. It’s about 10 percent lower over the lifespan of the vehicle.

“If it’s one dollar less, it’s a go decision,” Morgus said. “They actually make sense economically.” Webking said the benefits of the electric buses are to the environment, increased efficiency and other factors.

“Saving money is not the reason to do this,” he said. Board member Grant Gager said Fonnesbeck would return to the board, likely in September, with recommendations on how to implement the electric bus program and operate the vehicles.

“We’re really moving into the meat of the project,” Gager said. “Phase two is really how we get into how we make this work.”

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