Mountain Rides Transportation Authority is in the process of acquiring 0.75 acres of land in Bellevue’s light-industrial district to expand its existing facility to fit a future fleet of electric buses on the corner of Gannett Road and Clover Street.
The westward expansion into Southern Belle Business Park will allow Mountain Rides to house up to eight battery-powered electric buses in Bellevue, Executive Director Wally Morgus said. Four battery-electric buses are due to arrive next spring.
Priced around $760,000 each, the incoming battery-electric buses are about 35 feet long with a seating capacity of 35 passengers, Morgus said. Eventually, Mountain Rides hopes to convert its entire fleet of 20 diesel buses to electric.
“We feel like [the e-bus investment] is the right thing to do, near-term and long-term for this valley and community,” Morgus said in a board meeting last month.
Since 2018, Mountain Rides has been in negotiation with the owners of the Clover Street property adjacent to Bellevue’s current facility. Per a recent agreement, the private land will be acquired for $232,000 using a grant from the Federal Transit Administration and about $46,400 in local matching funds from the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey and Bellevue, Morgus said.
Earlier this month, Mountain Rides was awarded a $2.45 million Low-No Emissions grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help fund its transition to electric buses. The competitive program doled out over $130 million in electric-bus funding this summer to transit authorities across the country.
Mountain Rides also has $5 million in the bank from past Low-No Emissions grants—as well as $1.75 million in settlement money from Volkswagen’s 2015 emission scandal—to go toward electric bus purchases, Morgus said.
The first four e-buses should go into service in June 2021, replacing four aging diesel buses. After the Clover Street property is acquired, Mountain Rides expects to finalize a $20,000 contract with Hailey-based Power Engineers to install charging stations at the Bellevue facility and issue a service order to Idaho Power to increase power capacity there. Morgus said four dual-port charging stations will allow eight buses to be charged simultaneously.
CARES funding received
On June 5, Mountain Rides officially accepted $3.26 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding from the ITD Public Transportation Office, which will go toward operational needs over the next five years. The CARES funding will help ensure that all routes remain free until next spring and has already supplied drivers and maintenance staff with “hazard pay” bonuses for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic, Morgus said. It’s also gone to the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey and Bellevue to offset each jurisdiction’s financial contributions to Mountain Rides.
“We’ve reduced our funding requests of each [city] by 25 percent, year-over-year,” Morgus said.
He added that while current passenger loads are capped at 20, ridership this month has been 50 percent of what it was pre-pandemic—an encouraging trend, given that during the pandemic it was down to 10-15 percent of normal.
Ninety-five percent of riders have been wearing masks, Community Development Director Kim MacPherson reported, and all buses are offering complimentary masks.
“Drivers and maintenance staff are doing their darnedest to clean buses several times per day,” Morgus said. “We’re very attuned to the COVID situation.”
Since June 15, Mountain Rides’ summer schedule has been in full swing and will continue until mid-August. Ten round trips per week have been added to the Valley Route, and the Blue Route is running every 30 minutes until midnight. To view summer schedules, visit tinyurl.com/yd2qtlne.