START is aiming to make a dent in long wait times and capacity issues by contracting with an out-of-town firm to increase the number of buses zipping around Jackson Hole.
The Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners, which oversee the transit agency, voted to spend about $281,000 earlier this week to contract with Salt Lake Express. The county footed the bill.
“We need as much capacity as possible given the demand,” Commissioner Mark Newcomb said Tuesday. “It’s just not the year to cut short the effort around START.”
One new bus was operational Christmas Eve. Another is set to come online Sunday, and three others are scheduled to begin carting passengers Dec. 29.
The five new buses will add 720 seats a day to START’s new Teton Village Express route, which runs between Miller Park and Teton Village, stopping only at Albertsons and the Stilson lot. The new seats will specifically supplement capacity to the Village in busy morning hours, and from the Village in the afternoon exodus.
The Express route currently offers riders 2,124 seats a day, so the new buses will increase capacity by roughly 30%.
After pandemic-driven service cuts earlier this year, the town and county approved switching the route structure and funneling more money into the agency to approach near-normal service levels.
Then new state health orders reduced passenger capacity on START buses, which normally can carry a maximum of 77 people sitting and standing. The START board had opted to limit capacity to 30, but the new orders cut that further to 18 people, plus a driver. That capped the agency’s ability to move people around the valley, forcing drivers to leave people at bus stops and causing crowding in the queues.
Like START buses, the Salt Lake Express vehicles can hold 77 people but are limited to 18 passengers, plus a driver, per health orders.
Masks are required on all START vehicles.