NCMM Helps Plan New Public Transportation Service in Rural Idaho

  • Author: Amy Conrick
  • Date: March 14, 2023

Lincoln County, about 30 miles north of Twin Falls, is an extremely rural county with three small towns. Shoshone, Deitrich, and Richfield have a combined population of less than 2,500 people, and probably 10 times as many dairy cows. The county has a robust agricultural tradition, where about 18% of the land is devoted to farming and 76% is preserved as federal land.

Because of its sparse geography and small population, public transportation wasn’t an option until 2022, when Karma Metzler Fitzgerald began Lincoln County Connections. The van service, run on a wing and a prayer and large heaping of Karma’s optimism, has been connecting seniors with health care, students to college, and young residents to the youth center that Karma also established.

In October 2022, Lincoln County was awarded one of NCMM’s Community Mobility Design Challenge planning grants. Karma’s hope in applying for the grant was that the county could pause and take an in-depth, comprehensive look at the transportation needs in the county and determine how best to address them.

Lincoln County’s planning grant is one of 38 NCMM has awarded since 2013. NCMM’s approach to these grants is not the usual “here’s a check, give us a monthly report on how you spend it.” Instead, NCMM works very closely with each community it chooses using the human-centered design approach. This entails doing in-depth research within the community and using the insights from that research as the foundation for conceptualizing potential solutions. The three most promising solution concepts are then probed for weaknesses through testing assumptions embedded in those concepts, until the community learns which is the best choice. They are then on the path for NCMM’s second and third phase grants which leads them to pilot that solution.

In the Lincoln County interviews, NCMM learned several key factors that had to be acknowledged and addressed for the planning grant process to be a success:

  • County residents are a tough sell for new services. They have to see a clear benefit for their community in order to support it, and have to be convinced it is worth spending scarce local public resources to develop it. Related to that, education about transportation and how it could benefit residents is crucial to getting community buy-in.
  • Community residents pride themselves on supporting their neighbors, but ironically will rarely ask for help on their own behalf. In a hypothetical example shared with NCMM, if neighbors have noticed that a farmer’s fence has needed mending for a while, they are more likely to step in and repair it before the farmer requests this kind of assistance. The assumption is that the farmer would have taken care of it himself if he were able to do so, and thus actually did need the help.
  • When residents don’t have transportation to health care appointments, they either delay them or just don’t go.
  • People who are lacking transportation now are resigned to the fact that they can’t easily get around. However, they may not self-identify as “being in need”; instead, they accept this is just the hand they have been dealt and “get on with it.”
  • Providing a scheduled transportation option that a rider can use without advanced notice, rather than services based on requests for rides, would give people more independence and lessen the sense they are asking for help or burdening somebody.
  • Residents may be more willing to help with a community project with their own labor, equipment, and materials rather than paying for someone outside to come in and do the work. Keeping the work with locals is much preferable to having outsiders come in to do it.


Stay tuned for a later blog to hear about the solutions Lincoln County has developed and tested.

A rural street with buildings on one side of the road.


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