It’s a story similar to other stories I’ve heard. This one involves LaRew, a 96-year-old man that would ride the bus for about three or four hours each day. Todd Beutler, general manager/CEO of Cache Valley Transit District, was a bus driver at that time and developed a friendship with this frequent rider.
“One day I sat down with him for about five minutes while we were waiting for the departure and I said, ‘LaRew, what’s your story? I see you come ride the bus every day.’
“He got tears in his eyes and he said, ‘Todd, I lost my wife just a few months ago and I’m going blind so I’m living with my daughter and her family. They have three kids. I’m a burden to them, you know; they have to take care of me. I get tired staring at the walls. I get to come out here and ride around on the bus and I get to meet people like you. This is just such a wonderful thing for me because I can go and give them a break, they can go do something with the family and I can still be independent.’
“That changed my whole experience with public transit,” Beutler says. “From that point I’m like, we really make an impact on people’s lives.
“We’re more than providing public transit, we’re sometimes the only person that smiles at an individual or we’re the only one that says hello to them today. It’s more than getting people to work or going as far as a destination; it’s about much more that we do to impact their lives.
“I share this story with every transit driver just because it had that much of an impact on me,” he adds.
It was while Beutler was attending Utah State University to obtain his bachelor’s degree in human resources management that he began as a transit driver. He says, “Over time I just did various things with the organization; I was a dispatcher, then a trainer, so that’s kind of how I got my start.”
He was working for a third-party contractor and when he finished college, he went to work in California for the contractor, at that time Laidlaw Transit. “I managed a couple different projects out there. I spent three years in California then came back and was the general manager for the third-party contractor at this location.”
It was September of 2000 that he came back. California was a great learning experience he says, but he loves the community he’s in and it was a good opportunity to come back.
Starting a Fare-Free System
On Nov. 7, 2000, Cache Valley voters elected to establish the Cache Valley Transit District (CVTD). As part of the public referendum, voters ratified a special services district that includes the cities of Richmond, Smithfield, Hyde Park, North Logan, River Heights, Providence, Millville, Nibley and Hyrum. Recently, CVTD has added service to Franklin County, Idaho and Lewiston.
The funding comes from federal funds and a local option sales tax passed by the voters, a three-tenths of 1 percent in the cities CVTD serves.
“When the system first started, the people initially voted down the creation of a district, but they saw that in a local city it would have passed, it just didn’t county-wide,” explains Beutler. “Some citizens got together and they took it back in a couple of years and just took it before the citizens of Logan.”
An option considered to appeal to the community was a fare-free system.
“One of the things they told the citizens was that we’ll have it stay fare-free for the first year, just to encourage ridership and get people used to it because this community has never had anything like that since the ‘50s.
“After the first year, everyone got together and they said, ‘You know what? This really works, this thing of being fare free, let’s continue to do this.’” Beutler explains that they want to keep it fare free but look at it in the short-range transit plans each year. “One of the things the board has tasked me with doing is offering innovative services that reduce the dependency off the automobile.” He adds, “A fare, it’s kind of a deterrent to riding the bus because you may not have exact change, or how do I transfer; it’s just another thing, another barrier to people.”