Rental cars

Rachel Harper loads her bags into a rental car earlier this year at Jackson Hole Airport. Discussions are underway regarding START Bus servicing travelers and airport employees between town and the airport.

When interim START Bus Director Bruce Abel recently ran through a lengthy list of priorities he would like to accomplish while on the job, START service to and from the airport was among them.

It wasn’t at the top of the list — more immediate tasks like launching START’s new route plan and East Jackson microtransit were up there — but he noted that it’s among services he’d like to examine within the next six months.

For several community members, however, airport service is high on their list, and it’s very much on the Jackson Town Council’s radar.

“I’ve been asked to look at potential service to the airport, and I’ve been asked to look at potential service to Grand Teton National Park,” Abel told the News&Guide.

START Bus airport service and routes to the park both came up in a 2019 route plan study but were not ultimately adopted.

“It’s not part of an adopted plan,” Abel said. “It was brought up as a potential additional service that should be looked at further. So we’ll look at it further.”

Essentially, Abel said, START must be directed by elected officials to progress with the idea before he or his successor can truly undertake implementation of service to the airport. It’s a conversation the council is willing to have, said Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson, who added she is “always open to the discussion about START servicing the airport.”

Several people at the Town Council’s Nov. 1 regular meeting gave public comment, asking the council to move START service to the airport toward the top of their agenda, if not fast-track its implementation.

Local resident Brian Bales, who is participating in this fall’s Conservation Leadership Institute through the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, was among those asking the council to undertake the task. Bales pointed to the amount of vehicular traffic that could be taken off the roads in Jackson Hole if START were to provide airport service, and the resulting environmental benefits.

Bales told of a recent experience he had when he flew back from Salt Lake City and a friend came to pick him up. Later that same day, another friend asked Bales to pick them up at the airport, which he did.

The trips, Bales said, “resulted in well over an hour of travel across our valley that could be alleviated.” He added that he and a couple friends have been advocating for increased START service, as “currently, the options of transportation to and from the airport leave you with either a hefty taxi bill, car rental fee, or baking bribery cookies for a friend. Ultimately, this should be addressed to better serve our community and visitors.”

A couple of other public commenters shared similar views, pointing to the cost — $17 a day to park at the airport or around $50 or more to take a taxi, Uber, Lyft, or other such service each way to and from the airport — and environmental impacts as reasons the council should prioritize START airport service.

“Looking at ways to make it work for the community is a good thing, and getting cars off the road is what we want to see,” Mayor Morton Levinson said Tuesday.

Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen, who serves as the council’s liaison to START Bus, addressed some of the public comments at the end of the Nov. 1 meeting and previously discussed START service to the airport in a September interview with the News&Guide. The vice mayor noted at the meeting what Abel had also said — that the service was examined as part of the 2019 route study — but that other aspects of the plan, such as service to South Park, took more immediate priority.

“That’s not to say that the airport service is not important, but it was decided to work with South Park because of access to funding and the fit to the current route plans,” Jorgensen said, adding that START is already in the process of seeking grant funding to help with potential airport service.

In the September interview, Jorgensen pointed out some other challenges regarding airport service. For example, as with other small airports, delayed flights can wreak havoc on a public transportation system’s effectiveness. Additionally, he said, there are two distinct groups of people the service would aim to support, travelers and airport employees. Those groups’ disparate schedules introduce complications, though Jorgensen said creative ideas such as possibly training a group of airport employees to drive an employee-only START shuttle or van could factor into a solution.

While Abel and Jorgensen both hesitated to put a time frame on when START airport service might become a reality, the vice mayor gave an optimistic outlook.

“To me, it’s a question of when, not if,” Jorgensen said.

Contact Tim Woods at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

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