One public transit lifeline in the valley was severed this week with the dissolution of Idaho Falls-based Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority.
The Post Register reported on April 23 that the TRPTA board had voted to dissolve the local bus service within 90 days because the agency faced financial restrictions after it failed an audit from the Federal Transit Administration, and the Idaho Falls City Council, TRPTA’s biggest local funder, voted to withhold a quarterly payment.
Then this Monday TRPTA sent a letter to its staff announcing that April 30 would be the last day of service.
Driggs community development director Doug Self, who has worked for years on the vision for public transit in Teton Valley, said the news was unfortunate but not a big surprise.
“TRPTA asked to leave the bus garage a couple months ago and that clued us in,” he said, referring to the city-owned garage in the Trailhead Building.
Last year during budget season, TRPTA, which is funded in part by contributions from local cities and counties, requested more money to make up for increasing costs and decreasing federal aid. Those requests were not met; for the most part the governing bodies of Teton Valley opted to keep contributions at historic levels. The shuttering of TRPTA will free up between $5,000 and $10,000 for Driggs, Victor, and Teton County annually.
According to TRPTA records, the service made 6,793 trips to and within Teton County in fiscal year 2017 alone, nearly 16 percent of its total trips. The buses mainly run as demand response service for seniors, disabled people, and school children.
While the school district uses its own resources to transport kids from Victor and Tetonia to the ABC afterschool program, some kids enrolled at Teton Valley Community School and Victor Elementary use TRPTA to get to activities at Teton Arts, Teton Indoor Sports Academy, or the climbing gym, or to simply get closer to their parents’ workplaces.
Raneta Kinney, the TVCS office manager, said TRPTA serves eight families at the private Victor school, with around 15 kids riding the bus to Driggs regularly. She fielded calls all day on Monday from parents hoping to pool resources and organize a ride share.
“We’re scrambling for this week. It definitely impacts us, but it would be cool to see a START bus connection start up,” Kinney said, referring to Jackson-based Southern Teton Area Regional Transit.
Seniors West of the Tetons executive director River Osborn said that she doesn’t see a lot of TRPTA users, but the ones who do ride the bus do so regularly, to attend lunch and activities at the senior center. Some also take the bus to Rexburg or Idaho Falls for medical appointments or errands. Osborn has tried in the past to inform more clients about TRPTA’s service, because she didn’t feel that TRPTA was doing an adequate job of advertising itself.
SWOT actually owns a bus, which Osborn said is underutilized.
“We would like to make greater use of it and we’re open to talking to the cities about it. Hopefully we can provide at least a stopgap,” Osborn said.
Self said that Driggs is exploring how to get federal transit funding to SWOT in order to transport seniors. The SWOT board will meet on May 7 to discuss its options.
While Driggs has set aside funding for transit, Self explained that the city “hasn’t been willing to give it to TRPTA,” because of perceived inefficiencies in the service. He added that the city’s strategy has been to help coordinate services and build facilities such as the bus garage and transit center, but not to take on providing services. As part of its goal to encourage a simpler system, in 2018 the city turned over grant management of the Grand Targhee shuttle to START. In addition to the resort shuttle, START also operates four round trips per weekday between Teton Valley and Jackson for commuters.
The Jackson Hole News & Guide reported this week that START is considering offering microtransit in Jackson, a flexible, on-demand transportation system to compete with private app-based services like Uber. Self thinks incorporating new technology for demand response service will improve valley transit as well.
He is optimistic about future discussions with START.
“START has it in their integrated transportation plan to become more of a regional agency, and we’d assume that means playing more of a role here,” he said. “This is a hiccup, and will be challenging for some residents, but it opens other opportunities to build a more comprehensive transit system in the valley.”