TRPTA

In this December file photo, passengers greet each other as they transfer buses at the Targhee Regional Public Transportation Agency bus stop between Sixth and Seventh streets.

When Amanda Ely visited the bank earlier this month to handle billing and payroll for the Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority, her withdrawal was rejected. The agency’s account was too low to fully pay the employees.

Funding for the Federal Transportation Administration, which provides grant money for public transit across the country, was frozen due to the federal government shutdown. In 2017 the agency provided $13.9 million in total funding to projects and provided more than half of the funds for TRPTA’s bus service in eastern Idaho.

TRPTA already had been forced to cut routes because of the shutdown. The agency announced Dec. 31 that routes between Idaho Falls and Rexburg would be completely shut down and the stops on the route between Rexburg and St. Anthony would be temporarily suspended so that more popular routes could continue. But the shutdown’s effects have since spread through the agency and cities could soon have to step in so the agency can continue providing rides.

“This is the time of year when it’s not easy to get around without a warm vehicle,” TRPTA board president Michael O’Bleness said.

In the short term, the agency has relied on savings and other sources of income to pay employees and get through the shutdown. Money from the Idaho Transportation Department has not been affected and the agency still receives weekly funds from Medicaid to continue providing free and discounted rides to passengers who are on Medicaid.

“If we can get about two weeks out, I think the government should be open back up and we won’t have to do any of those bigger cuts,” Ely said.

If the shutdown continues past that point, Ely said TRPTA officials have begun planning other potential cuts to routes and employees. The agency has already dropped eight hours of work per week for much of the administration and has begun looking to temporarily outsource some of their work to the cities they service.

Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill represents the city on the public transportation company’s board and said the issue of city aid was discussed during Thursday’s board meeting. He brought the issue back to the city and found employees to help TRPTA with its grant writing and human resources at the end of January if needed. The Idaho Falls City Council discussed the possibility of taking over other duties at its Monday work session and Ammon’s representative offered to bring a similar plan before their city council.

Ely said TRPTA was also looking into taking out a line of credit as a source of temporary private funding and that other routes could be temporarily suspended. The only routes that could remain guaranteed are the on-demand, door-to-door services the agency provides and the fixed routes that run through Idaho Falls

“We want to reduce the impact as much as we possibly could. The city of Idaho Falls almost pays full match for those buses,” Ely said.

Going forward, Merrill said he was unsure if Rexburg would be able to offer more financial help to TRPTA if the shutdown forced more routes to be cancelled.

“That’s something we would have to discuss as a council. That thing is certainly up in the air right now,” Merrill said.

Contact Brennen with news tips at 208-542-6711.

Kauffman reports on health care and city events for the Post Register.