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Public transit pilot program coming to Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls

IDAHO FALLS — A new form of public transit is on its way to Idaho Falls two years after the collapse of public transportation in the area.

The new “microtransit” pilot program will launch by spring 2022, using on-demand rides with multi-passenger vehicles rather than having the traditional model with buses on scheduled routes. The Greater Idaho Falls Transit Board said in a news release the program comes after approval from the city of Idaho Falls and the Idaho Transportation Department.

Although the exact vehicle type has not been selected, board members say it would likely include a fleet of vans, SUVs or cars.

“This pilot project allows users in the city of Idaho Falls to experience public transit once again at no additional cost to taxpayers,” Michelle Ziel-Dingman, GIFT Board Chair and Idaho Falls City Council President, says in the news release. “The parties involved in the project believe that microtransit is a viable solution due to its flexibility and affordable fares.”

Ziel-Dingman has spent the last two and a half years looking for a solution after the Targhee Regional Public Transit Authority dissolved its services in 2019. The closure of TRPTA public transit came after a history of financial woes, including the dissolving of federal funds used for its operation.

A contracted company will provide the new service. The vendor will be responsible for providing the rides, scheduling and other aspects of the service.

ITD applied to fund the microtransit program through the Federal Transit Administration. The approval for funds comes through $4,191,157 in CARES Act money, and the program comes at no additional cost to the taxpayer.

With the funding, the pilot project is looking at providing fares at $1.50 each way, which is significantly less than fares TRPTA offered, Ziel-Dingman told The board chair said that with the lower cost, people might see some differences from services like Uber or Lyft.

In a microtransit system, the vehicles might transport more than one person and stop at multiple destinations. Ziel-Dingman said the pilot program seeks to keep the longest rides at about 30 minutes.

The system also will allow private rideshare operators to keep their customers as the microtransit system seeks to fill the gaps when there are fewer rides. Once the contract is awarded and finalized, the microtransit system plans to operate six days a week for about 14 hours. Uber and Lyft would still be needed for the evening and weekend rides that are often operated by people using services like Uber as a second job, Ziel-Dingman said.

Until other entities such as counties and cities join the program, the microtransit system will only operate inside of Idaho Falls city boundaries.

To help with the new program, Idaho Falls created a transit coordinator position. The new position will directly oversee the pilot program and manage the contract with the third-party vendor.

“Credit the Idaho Falls City Council and GIFT Board for having the vision to bring affordable transit back to Idaho Falls,” Public Works Director Chris Frederickson said in the news release. “In particular, Council President/GIFT Board Chair Michelle Ziel-Dingman has worked tirelessly to make this pilot project a reality.”

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