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The best bus ever
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Monday, December 31, 2007

The cost of transportation

(Guest post by Bikeboy. This is very similar to a post I put on my "Bike Nazi" blog. I'm also posting it here, because I'm confident it's of interest to public transit advocates.)

We got the memo at the office last Friday. It reads like this:

Effective January 1, 2008, the mileage reimbursement rate for the use of personal cars in conjunction with company business will be increased to 50.5¢ per mile, up from the current 48.5¢. The new rate is consistent with the maximum standard mileage rate currently authorized by the IRS.

Of course, the cost for using your car for personal business is about the same, but you don't get reimbursed. You just write out the checks... for gas, and for car payments, tires, repair expenses, parking, insurance, etc., etc. (It's easy to just consider the cost of fuel, since it comes up the most regularly.)

The IRS allowance is probably a somewhat-accurate indicator of what the actual cost is, to operate a motor vehicle. Could you save money by leaving the car home and taking the bus? There's a good chance of it. (ValleyRide just released their 2008 fare schedule - a local trip remains flat at $1.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Passing judgment, again

Boy, Valley Ride sure doesn't make it easy to help the needy during the holidays.

I picked a card off the Giving Tree on the Grove in downtown Boise, on which the Women's and Children's Alliance specifies needs for their clients who are facing family crises. My card requested adult bus passes, youth bus passes, and umbrellas.

It's easy enough to buy adult bus passes in downtown Boise, where they are available at Boise City Hall and Winco. But if you're looking for a youth bus pass? You need to drive to Valley Ride's Meridian HQ. As I've reported in the past, a trip to Meridian is also necessary for those of us who want to buy long-term bus passes.
Why can't Valley Ride sell youth passes at Boise City Hall - at least during the holidays, when the WCA is requesting them?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Congratulations to COMPASS

COMPASS - the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho - has scooped up two national awards in recent months. The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) has picked the "Communities in Motion: Regional Long-Range Transportation Plan 2030" as a 2007 Project of the Year Merit Award winner, acknowledging COMPASS for its "use of innovative public participation techniques and for successfully involving the public in the planning process." The award was given November 15 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Earlier this fall, COMPASS' Communities in Motion plan also won the National Award for Outstanding Achievement in Metropolitan Transportation Planning from the Association for Metropolitan Planning Organizations. That award was presented in Little Rock, Arkansas, on October 4 during the AMPO Annual Conference.

Way to go, COMPASS. Now if we can start bringing that long-range plan to fruition!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reminder: air summit today

Just a reminder that Boise City Council plans a town hall meeting at 7 tonight (Tuesday November 27) at City Hall to discuss the area's declining air quality. The meeting will also air live and taped on Channel 24/7 several times over the next few days. Click here for more details.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's a TRAIN! No... it's a BUS! No...

[Guest post by bikeboy.]

Japan Rail, the company that operates passenger trains on the islands of Japan, has just completed testing on a vehicle they call the Dual Mode Vehicle (DMV).

It looks like a bus. But it runs on rails... OR on the street! An informational web brochure about the vehicle can be found by clicking here.

The visionaries in Treasure Valley like to imagine that light rail from Caldwell to Boise might someday be feasible. A few years back, Mayor Brent even spent thousands bringing in a "Regional Sprinter" train from Germany for a demo.

One of the obstacles is, once the train arrives at the Boise Depot, most folks are still quite a distance from their ultimate destinations. Well, imagine if the train, upon arriving at the Depot, could retract its rail-wheels, and continue on down the road to downtown Boise, where people could catch a bus. Huh? Huh?!!

This visionary is imagining a half-dozen of these DMVs loading up passengers at various park-and-rides, etc., around Caldwell, Nampa, Meridian, and then getting on the tracks (with all track-traffic eastbound in the morning). They take the tracks - blowing past that Interstate bumper-to-bumper - to the Boise (train) Depot, where they hop onto the pavement and proceed downtown, depositing the passengers at a downtown Boise multi-mode transit depot. Once downtown, passengers could catch a real bus or taxi, or maybe even walk. (Or, the DMVs could deploy directly from the Depot to various destinations around the city. Throw on some bike racks, and they would be even more flexible.) Then, in the afternoon, those half-dozen DMVs load up their passengers at the same downtown depot, drive to the train Depot and hop the rail... which is all-westbound in the afternoon. They speed, unimpeded by rush-hour traffic, to their various destinations in west Treasure Valley.

Toot! Toot!

A bit more about the author: I personally lean toward bicycles-as-alternative-transportation, but realize the 2-wheeler isn't practical for everybody. I share Julie's enthusiasm about public transit, and appreciate her allowing me "guest poster" privileges. As a native Boisean, I am deeply concerned about the current direction (L.A.-style sprawl) that my home town is headed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Just the facts

Here are some interesting statistics distributed at the recent Idaho Transit Summit:

Miles of bus transit
Oregon 2,970
Utah 1,612
Idaho 217

Miles of light rail transit
Oregon 77
Utah 30
Idaho 0

Transit passenger miles/2005
Oregon 486,880,700
Utah 174,424,500
Idaho 6,900,000

Miles of public road
Oregon 66,902
Idaho 46,456
Utah 41,852

Oregon 3,620,771
Utah 2,507,417
Idaho 1,432,664

And here are a few more eye-opening statistics from the Idaho Statesman's November 18 editorial on air quality:

2007 good air quality days (to November 14): 181
2007 days with air-quality alerts: 139

2001-2006 average good air quality days: 269.7
2001-2006 average air-quality alert days: 95.5

(Space here to draw your own conclusions ... )

By the way, the Boise City Council will hold an air quality summit at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, November 27, at City Hall.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Draft legislation available

The Valley Regional Transit website has links to the proposed legislation that would allow voters to decide on local option taxes to fund construction and maintenance of public transportation and highways. Public comments are welcome through November 29.

As I write this, I'm sitting in Spokane, a city that is almost exactly the same as Boise in land mass and population. Somehow, Spokane manages to have at least twice as much transit as we do: more routes, longer hours, evening and Sunday service, you name it. Three years ago, more than two-thirds of Spokane residents voted to double their local transit sales tax from three-tenths to six-tenths of a cent to make up for lost state funds.

It saddens me greatly that in Idaho, we have to make road-building part of the package if we want to get better transit. But hey, we're Idaho, where the legislature is still run by ruralites who don't give a damn about Ada and Canyon counties, and - let's be frank - a few urban legislators who still haven't come around to the fact that traffic is killing our valley. The Boise Bus Blog will probably support the proposed legislation because it appears like the only way to improve what has to be the worst transit system for a metro area of our size anywhere in the United States.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bus baby arrives; Seattle votes

I'm a big fan of Seattle's Bus Chick, whom I learned about via the Transit Blog Aggregator. Bus Chick Carla and her husband Adam (a.k.a. Bus Nerd, whom she met on the bus, of course) rode two buses to the hospital to give birth to their new baby. Her name is Rosa, after the "original bus chick," Carla writes. Read more here.

Meanwhile in Seattle, voters will decide Tuesday whether or not to pass a Roads and Transit package (Proposition 1), which would fund both a 50-mile light rail extension and more roads and bridges in the Puget Sound area. Many environmentalists are torn over Prop 1 because it would mean a lot of new roads in addition to new transit. In a preview of what we may face here in the Treasure Valley (where transit proponents are now backing a local option tax that would allow money to be used for roads and transit), Michael at Carless in Seattle genuinely agonized over his vote and finally voted yes. Read his deliberations here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Could Amtrak help TV transit?

Idaho Statesman columnist Tim Woodward has a fine essay today about the possibility that Amtrak might return to Boise after more than 10 years. He writes:

A generation of Idahoans is growing up not knowing what a passenger train is. They don't have a clue that they're missing out on one of the most civilized ways to travel.

Sen. Mike Crapo would like to change that. Crapo is considering co-sponsoring a bill that could bring Amtrak trains back to southern Idaho. That's good news for young people whose idea of a train is an antique locomotive in Julia Davis Park — to say nothing of former passengers who have alternately fumed and sulked since our trains were taken away...

... "They're looking at expanding or returning service in some areas, and there's a huge gap in the Mountain West," Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said. "We want to see a train back in southern Idaho. There's been a lot of growth in Boise, Portland and really all along the line. There potentially are a lot more passengers than there were when the Pioneer was cut."

Woodward's column got me thinking: If Amtrak comes back to Boise, it would come back to Nampa, too. Depending on when the trains run, would there be a possibility that some people could use Amtrak to commute between Idaho's two largest cities?

Probably not. You can commute from Seattle to Tacoma on Amtrak, but it would cost about $22 a day with an advance purchase. (Woodward boasted of traveling 350 miles on Amtrak for $48. The farther you go on Amtrak, the cheaper the per-mile cost.) Still, considering gas, parking, and the relaxing train vibe, perhaps $22 is worth it for some well-to-do Puget Sound commuters.

Another potential dilemma: We wouldn't have the amount of service that West Coast and East Coast train riders enjoy. If it turns out that the day's lone westbound train leaves Boise at 11:30 a.m. and the only eastbound comes through Nampa at 3:15 p.m, that obviously wouldn't work too well for commuting.

OK, so maybe we can't count on a resurrected Amtrak to relieve rush-hour traffic on Interstate 84. The train would still help whet local appetites for more public transit and give us all a great long-distance transportation alternative.

I agree: Let's bring back Amtrak. You can write Sen. Crapo in support of this idea here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Notes from the transit summit

I was only able to attend the latter third of Tuesday's Idaho Transit Summit, so feel free to add info in the comments below if you caught the earlier sessions. But while I was there, I learned:

1) There is solid, bipartisan, statewide support for giving Idahoans the opportunity to vote on a local options tax for our transportation needs. Many speakers spoke in support of a compromise bill proposed for the 2008 Idaho Legislature, which would allow communities to seek approval for funding for both public transit and highway needs. "How do we get legislators to understand that people want the right to determine their own future?" Idaho Falls councilwoman Karen Cornwell asked to enthusiastic applause.

State Sen. John McGee (R-Nampa) and House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet (D-Ketchum) also expressed support for local option taxing authority, as did Coeur d'Alene city councilwoman Dixie Reid, businessman Chuck Winder, Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill, and Nampa Mayor Tom Dale. The only naysayer on hand seemed to be Rep. Scott Bedke of Oakley, who suggested that leaders of communities outside the Treasure Valley may be OK with watching the metro area struggle because urban transit woes might mean better odds for their own economic development efforts.

Idaho is currently one of only four states that does not have a dedicated funding mechanism for transit - and Bedke is one of the House Rev & Tax Committee members who refused to let the local option question go to the full House last session. "My area of the state has benefited from the old system," Bedke said.

2) Some Idaho communities are doing impressive things with the limited funding we have. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, the State of Idaho, and Kootenai County all teamed to create Citylink, a free bus system that began two years ago and serves almost all of Kootenai County plus parts of Benewah County. In that time, ridership has grown from 44,000 to more than 250,000. "The more services we can provide, the higher our ridership is getting," said Reid.

3) Keynote speakers LaVarr Webb of Utah and Charlie Hales of Oregon told how transit benefits their states. Describing himself as a staunch lifelong Republican and allowing parallels between the conservative Utah and Idaho legislatures, Webb added that nothing in his philosophy rules out giving voters the power to decide whether to tax themselves, as Utah voters have done for public transit.

Hales, a former Portland city councilman, stressed the need to get business leaders on board for any proposal. "Donald Trump was right: Greed is good," he noted, adding that a robust transit system has been a boon to the Portland area's economy. Webb echoed this, saying that business and chamber support can give cover to an otherwise reluctant legislature. At this, Chuck Winder made note of the Idaho National Laboratory in Eastern Idaho - which provides private bus transportation for its employees - and wondered, "I still don't understand why Micron spends millions on parking lots when it could spend that on transporting its employees. But we have to have a better system before people will use it."

Hales pointed to the example of Tucson, where voters repeatedly turned down transit funding initiatives before finally approving a compromise proposal similar to the one contemplated here. Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, Hales said, "Above all, try something." He suggested that some cities have done well by funding transit projects with means other than added tax dollars, "to give people an opportunity to experience good transit" before asking them to pay more for it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Idaho Transit Summit set Oct. 16

Thank you all for your patience with my sporadic bus blogging these days. I started a new job (as online organizer for the Study Circles Resource Center) a month ago. Beyond that, I am working nights to finish the seventh edition of my guidebook Idaho Off the Beaten Path. Together with various and sundry volunteer activities, I don't have a lot of time for extracurricular blogging. But there's a lot going on, so I will try to bring us up to speed ...

Next Tuesday morning (October 16), Boise State University and more than a dozen mayors from all over Idaho will play host to the Idaho Transit Summit. Speakers from Utah and Oregon will discuss what's happened in their states, and Idaho leaders will try to come to grips with what is and isn't possible here in the Gem State. Click here for more info. The free events run from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Jordan Ballroom at BSU's Student Union. No RSVP is required.

Transit funding is certain to top the agenda next week, and The Idaho Statesman editorialized today about the likelihood that transit backers will float legislation that would also allow local option taxation for road projects. A snip: "For transit backers, splitting local tax dollars with road projects represents a half-a-loaf compromise. But it's better than nothing, considering that Idaho is one of but four states that provide no dedicated state or local dollars for public transportation." Read the whole editorial here.

Also in today's Statesman, a report on the Boise mayoral race included this: "The candidates had different approaches to mass transit, with (Jim) Tibbs emphasizing the need for a functional bus system in Ada and Canyon counties before looking to commuter or light rail trains. But (Dave) Bieter said he's sold on the benefits of a commuter rail line along the region's existing tracks. He also emphasized the need to make the Idaho Legislature's adoption of a local option tax to pay for transit a 'political inevitability.'"

Finally (for now), Idaho Smart Growth is seeking people to help with a transit Neighborhood Outreach Day on October 20 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m . If you can help, email Rachel at idahosmartgrowth dot org or call 333-8066.

Monday, September 24, 2007

We're doing something right

There was a fascinating collection of transit-related articles in today's Idaho Statesman. A cover story featured the Ada County Highway District's van pool program which - who knew?! - is the "oldest multi-employer vanpool program in the country." It's been rolling since 1976 and currently has 65 van pools serving more than 700 people. Many users of the program live in Canyon County. In fact, more than 13 percent of Canyon County residents commute via carpool or vanpool, compared to 10.7 percent nationally. The number is rising as growing numbers of Canyon County workers (many of whom work in Ada County) have commutes nearly as long as people in Seattle.

A sidebar to the article gives a handy overview of the current transit situation in Idaho which, in a word, is bleak. Disappearing federal funds, $1.7 billion in unfunded transportation needs, and lack of local funding mechanisms are all conspiring to put the Treasure Valley farther behind on meeting existing needs, never mind preparing for the future. The article adds that the same transportation coalition that worked for a local option tax will be back for the 2008 Legislature, and that if lawmakers balk again at allowing southwestern Idahoans to vote on a local option tax, transit backers will take the matter to voters via an initiative.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Three minutes early

I've been either missing or waiting on buses a lot these past few days.

Last Saturday, I wanted to catch the 1:15 bus from downtown to the Hyde Park Street Fair. I had to be there by 2 to help out at a booth. When the bus didn't show up by 1:30, I decided I'd be better off walking.

Yesterday, I took the State Street bus to meet friends for lunch. The bus back downtown was two minutes early, but fortunately, I was at the stop in time. I transferred to the Vista bus downtown, only to sit on the bus a full five minutes past departure time before the driver showed up.

Today, I was running a little late to catch the Vista bus downtown, but it's usually pretty much on time, so I wasn't worried. But I watched from a block away as it pulled up at Overland three minutes early. It was a little too far for me to run, so I missed it- and since the Vista bus only runs once an hour at mid-day, I decided to drive instead.

My lessons (re)learned? It's always wise to be at the bus stop five minutes early. Still, I can't help but think about the people who miss these buses by a minute or two, but who are not riding the bus by choice, like I am, but out of necessity. I hope the days comes that Valley Ride can run all its city routes every half-hour minimum, and preferably every 15 to 20 minutes on the major routes. If people know they can rely on another bus to be available in a reasonably short time frame, they'll be much more likely to give bus riding a try.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Green show

Tune in Monday, September 17, as KBCI Channel 2 in Boise airs its latest Project Green special, this one focused on Treasure Valley transportation options. Yours truly even makes a cameo appearance.

The show airs at 7 p.m. Monday, and I believe it will repeat at 10:45 p.m. on September 18 and 19. Click here for more on Project Green.

Update: Here are the airing times, straight from KBCI:
7 p.m. Monday, September 17
10:30 a.m. Saturday, September 22
10:35 p.m. Sunday, September 30

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pro-transit blogs, everywhere!

Check out the new addition to my blogroll, the "City Transit Advocates" blog aggregator. Just launched last week, it features 38 blogs that cover transit issues in cities across North America. Let the Seattle Bus Chick to tell you how "it is possible to lead an active, fulfilling, fabulous life without a car." (It's actually pretty easy in Seattle, compared to here.) Marvel at the cool "transitography" visuals - from way beyond Florida - at Transit Miami. Read about the Illinois State Legislature's failure to pass a transit bill at the CTA Tattler. (Nice to know we're not alone ...)

Thanks to Pantograph Trolleypole of The Overhead Wire for including the Boise Bus Blog in this notable and compulsively readable effort.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

No parking at Art in the Park

This weekend is Boise's annual Art in the Park, one of our city's favorite festivals. The main entrance of Julia Davis is closed to traffic during Art in the Park, and parking anywhere in the immediate vicinity is extremely limited. So take Valley Ride downtown on Saturday and save the hassles.

If you must drive, or if you plan to attend the festival Sunday (when no Valley Ride buses run), park downtown and either walk the short distance to Julia Davis Park or catch the shuttle bus that's circling from the park to the heart of downtown. Shuttle bus service also is available from the north side of the Boise Towne Square mall, near Dillards. The shuttle buses will be running from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Have fun at Art in the Park!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

New options for BSU commuters

If you ever travel to Boise State University - whether for classes or community events - you know it's a huge hassle to park on or near campus. Moreover, the majority of BSU's 19,000+ students commute to school, adding to the valley's growing traffic load. But BSU seems committed to addressing these issues.

The Arbiter, BSU's student paper, had a story this week on a few new options that may make travel to BSU a bit less wearing. Free shuttle service is now available between the main campus and the BSU West campus in Nampa (which is also set to be home to the new College of Western Idaho). Free service will also be available to BSU from other outlying communities. Read more here.

Don't forget that shuttle service is also available between downtown Boise and BSU on football game days - like today. Go Broncos!

In related news, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter had a re-election fundraiser last night. I wasn't there in time to hear him speak about his vision for a second term, but people told me that his pledge to improve transit got the most applause by far.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Take the bus to the fair

I took a new-to-me route yesterday, the No. 8 Chinden to the Western Idaho Fairgrounds. I was one of three people who got off at the stop at Chinden and Kent in Garden City, a short walk to the entrance gates. The other two were teenage girls probably arriving to take advantage of the fair's special rate for rides between noon and 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Of course, since bus service ends around 6 p.m. and most people stay at the fair well past that, it'd be hard for many fairgoers to rely on Valley Ride for a trip home. But the lack of evening service wasn't an issue for me since I was meeting my husband, who arrived later.

How many times have your family fair schedules been staggered so that you wound up with two vehicles at the fair? How many times have you gone out of your way to shuttle your older kids to the fair when they could've taken the bus instead, saving you at least one trip? Both Route 8 and Route 10 (Hill Road/Maple Grove) serve the fairgrounds.

Why not take the bus to the fair this year? Hint: If you have to transfer to a fairgrounds route (as I did from the No. 3 Vista), a $2 day pass is your best bet even if you are only riding one way. Also remember that most Valley Ride routes (including Nos. 8 and 10) run only once an hour during the middle of the day, so make your plans accordingly if you need to arrive by a certain time. And since there's so Sunday service at all, forget about riding the bus for the 2007 fair's final day.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back soon. Really.

I'm finally done with my summer travels, which involved a sublime week in which I didn't get in my car at all in mid-July, followed by a week in ferry-full British Columbia, then a business trip on which I made full use of Chicago's fine CTA, then another biz trip on which I experienced the full force of this summer's screwy air travel. (I spent seven hours at O'Hare last Wednesday on what was supposed to be an hour layover, but I've heard of far worse.)

Now that I am home for good, more or less, I went to buy a one-year pass at Valley Ride yesterday. Denied again - but they sold me 12 one-month passes for the price of an annual one, so I can't complain. Word is that Valley Ride may be phasing out the annual passes. I think it's still possible to get one, but only when the right person is in the office at a certain phase of the moon, I guess.

I'll be back on the blog on a bit more regular basis pretty soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Summer break

I'm taking a midsummer blogging break. I'll be back online in a few weeks.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bikeboy tells it!

In an excellent guest post at the Boise Guardian, Bikeboy says a mouthful about Treasure Valley growth, air quality, and leadership (or lack thereof). He writes that he wants to elect a mayor who would support "improved mass transit, both rhetorically and monetarily. Mass transit will always have to be subsidized by the taxpayers, just like the roads. But I don’t think
it’s adequate to just keep throwing taxpayer dollars at the current system, which is obviously of very limited value to very few citizens.

"Perhaps the traditional 'spoke and hub' system has run its course. Maybe it’s time to explore alternatives, like shuttle buses for downtown and other business/office centers, more park-and-ride lots out at the periphery, etc. I am NOT an expert, but I know people will be reluctant to ride a bus that’s a major inconvenience at both ends."

I think we need to keep the spoke-and-hub system, mainly because it serves people who have no other transportation, or who choose to use it (and who live close enough to do so). I'd argue somewhat with the "major inconvenience" statement. Aside from lack of service in the evenings and Sunday, I find it very easy to ride the bus from my close-in home on the Bench. Yes, it often takes planning to make my schedule mesh with the once-and-hour midday bus runs, but it can be done.

Still, Bikeboy's right that the system needs to be configured to take traffic off of I-84, via shuttle buses, more park-and-rides (since the commuter routes are a hit), and other services that will help curb the area's growing traffic and air quality woes. He also has a lot of creative ideas for bike paths along canals, bike-friendly workplaces, and restrictions on parking lots, and he hammers home the key point: that if we all chose to live closer to our work, this would not be happening. Check it out.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Riding the bus is cool

For so many reasons, it's cool to ride the bus - especially on days when our air quality is moderate or worse. Bus riders are always cool because we're helping keep extra vehicles off the road.

But literally, it's cool to ride the bus. I climbed abroad a Vista bus at 8th and Idaho about 12:15 today, after a hot walk from the YMCA. It was probably about 75 degrees on board. It felt so good.

Some of the buses seem to overdo it: One I ride on the Overland route is frequently so cold that I need to put on a sweater. But the chill still feels nice on these hot summer days.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

My bus pass expires

My six-month bus pass expired the other day. Due to upcoming vacations, I am not going to buy a new one until August, when I hope to get a full annual pass. (If you've been reading the bus blog since the start, you'll recall that I tried to buy an annual pass as my New Year's Resolution last last December, but Valley Ride couldn't sell me one. I hear that's been remedied - but I'll still need to drive to Meridian (off the bus route) to buy my pass!

Did I get my money's worth from the six-month, $165 pass? I rode the bus about 140 times which - at $1 per ride - equals about $140 in bus fares. I estimate I traveled 450 miles on those trips; my car gets about 25 mpg in the city, so that's about a $55 gas savings. Add in maybe $50 or so in downtown parking fees I avoided and the small monthly discount on my car insurance, and I probably saved about $100 using the bus.

That's not a lot, but I'm not really in this for the money. I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do. People who ride the bus farther and more frequently than I do can save much more, of course - and have an even greater impact on keeping our roads and air clear. People who walk or bike save even more!

Final June stats

I rode the bus 20-something times in June. (I've been a little less diligent in logging my rides.) I stuck to the usual routes, the Vista and Overland. My goal is to ride the cool new claymation Art in Transit bus (and get a photo). Anyone know which route that's on?

I drove a whopping 721 miles in June, which will probably be my second-highest monthly total this year. The high total was due to a roadtrip to the Magic Valley (about 250 miles round trip) and another to Sagehen Reservoir (about 100 miles RT?). Other than that, it was a pretty normal month. I drove when I had to, i.e., when the buses weren't running (evenings and Sundays) or when I had errands off the routes. I've driven 2,187 miles in the first six months of this year, but I'll add on another 1,200 or so in July due to vacations.

I won't be keeping stats for July due to vacation and the fact I've temporarily let my bus pass lapse.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Well, duh ....

There's a story in the paper today (which I also heard last winter at the Statehouse) about how the Number 40 Nampa Express bus route is so popular that people at the final inbound stop in Meridian have sometimes had to sit on the floor. Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd suggested that if people have to sit on the floor, perhaps her city ought to pull its $98,000 annual contribution to Valley Ride.

Well, mayor, that certainly won't help matters. What I'm wondering is how Meridian - one of the West's fastest-growing cities - gets off paying less than 100K into Valley Ride when Boise ponies up more than $4 million (which Dave Bieter recommends go up to $5 million in the next budget cycle).

The story goes on:

(Valley Regional Transit director Kelli) Fairless said VRT increased its capacity on the agency's most popular commuter lines on June 15, switching from 24-passenger buses to 43-seat vehicles. ...

The Nampa Express intercounty buses, which begin in Nampa and pick up additional riders in south Meridian before heading to Boise, often filled up in the mornings before reaching the Meridian Park & Ride. That left some Meridian riders to sit on the floor in an open space near the back of the bus, said Mark Carnopis, spokesman for VRT.

The No. 43 Caldwell Express, which travels between Caldwell and Boise, was also crowded and received a larger bus, Carnopis said.

So far, the larger buses are keeping riders off the floor, but they're already full to the point that VRT doesn't want to advertise intercounty service, for fear of once again surpassing capacity, Carnopis said.

Carnopis said VRT's ridership has gone up about 40 percent in the past 18 months.

Two things:

Valley Ride needs to do whatever is necessary to add sufficient seat space to the popular intercounty runs to accommodate as many people as possible. If the demand is there, it must be met, so VRT officials can both demonstrate and encourage the growing appetite for transit. Reluctant riders won't keep riding if they're uncomfortable; they may not even get to the bus stop if they hear buses are always full. Add a still-bigger bus, or send two smaller vehicles, or add another run each day ... whatever it takes.

Meridian has a cooler head than de Weerd's in council member David Zaremba (a VRT board member) who suggested that cutting the city's funding to VRT wouldn't solve the problem. Reporter Hilary Costa wrote: "Zaremba said until the Idaho state legislature gives voters the power to approve a local option tax, cities need to continue to pay to keep the transit agency's most basic functions running, so that planned improvements can be implemented."

Mayor de Weerd needs to get with the program. Meridian deserves more and better service from VRT, but it also needs to accept (and probably increase) its share of the fiscal and moral imperative - and economic development potential - of promoting and funding decent transit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Your guide to ride

Jeanne Huff had a cool story in the Idaho Statesman today about why it's hip to ride the bus - or it should be, anyway. Huff does a good job explaining the small stuff regular Boise bus riders take for granted - flagging down a bus, requesting a stop, having exact change, etc. It was nice public-service journalism and who knows? Maybe it'll actually entice a few more folks to give transit a try.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New service from Middleton to Boise

From the Idaho Statesman:

Commuters across the country are being asked to keep their cars in their garages Thursday and use public transportation as part of the second annual National Dump the Pump Day. Middleton City Council member Loni Parry, Star Mayor Nathan Mitchell and Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill will participate by taking a ride on ValleyRide’s new Route 44 Express to the Park & Ride lot off East Riverside Drive in Eagle, where a celebration of the new intercounty route will take place. The Route 44 Express provides service to Caldwell, Middleton, Star, Eagle and Boise. The celebration will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Park & Ride lot.

Sounds good. Here's more info on the Route 44 Express, which will run free the rest of this month.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Transit news roundup

Sorry about the lack of posting! Here are a few recent news stories related to Treasure Valley transit ...

It sounds like both Boise mayoral candidates are committed to boosting transit. At a luncheon last week with real estate brokers, Jim Tibbs said the current level of congestion on the area's roadways "just flat sucks" and Dave Bieter recommitted himself to better transit as part of a livable city. More here.

Also last week, Bieter proposed a slight increase in the city's share of Valley Ride's budget - but will that be enough to sustain the struggling system, which faces some funding losses due to the city's growth, not to mention a state legislature hostile to allowing local option taxes?

Meanwhile, air quality in the Treasure Valley "just flat sucks," too. In the current issue of the Idaho Business Review, Eddie Kovsky writes, "The air quality in the Treasure Valley could be designated a non-attainment area by the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of the summer. Pollution, generated mostly by automobiles, could exceed the maximum amount allowed by the federal government.

"But here’s the funny part: if the Treasure Valley slips into non-attainment status, the first thing the government will likely do is withhold highway funding."

Hmmm. That doesn't sound too funny to me - but it may be what it takes to get the legislature to finally tackle our region's transit shortfall.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Final May stats

I rode the bus only 15 times in May - my lowest monthly total this year. I had a bad spring cold and allergies much of the month, coupled with a demanding new work assignment, all of which which kept me closer to home.

I didn't drive much in May, either, but I did wind up buying gas twice. I filled up last Wednesday (at $3.189 a gallon) for a trip this past weekend to the Magic Valley, on which I logged 277 miles. So I'll be buying gas again soon, but I hope to make THAT last until a camping trip the last week of this month. As of the end of May, I'd driven 1,466 miles so far in 2007. Not bad.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Looking for ways to use less gas?

Joe Kolman, the Idaho Statesman's "Environment at Home" columnist, has some good ideas in today's paper for people who insist they have no choice in their driving habits. Taking the case of a New Jersey woman who is spending $300 a month on gas, he writes:

She could trade in her SUV (22 mpg) for a fuel-efficient car.

She could carpool or take public transit, even just once a week.

She could move closer to work. (She commutes an absurd 110 miles a day.)

Kolman writes, "It's fairly easy to convince ourselves that we don't have choices. But our ability to survive depends on changing to adapt to new situations. People have been doing it for a long time; do we want to be the ones who finally just give up because we can't figure out how to drive less?"

Read it all here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gas prices hit record high

The United States made history today by wiping out the previous inflation-adjusted average gas price. The average price for regular unleaded is now $3.21 a gallon. That's about 16 cents more a gallon than this time last year, and we probably won't see gas for less than $3 a gallon until fall.

One month from today is Dump the Pump Day. How timely. Read more here.

Getting to the grocery store

Via a post at Daily Kos, I learned about how U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and several others from the House Hunger Caucus recently took part in a food stamp challenge. On his blog, Ryan described the challenges of trying to eat on a mere $21 a week.

What does this have to do with public transportation? Take it from Ryan:

As several people have mentioned it the comments, a problem faced many across the country, especially the inner-city poor, are the lack of low-cost food stores in an easily accessible area. These people can’t afford to drive to a Wal-Mart in the suburbs for the bargains; they aren’t members of the warehouse club stores. If you are constrained to where you can walk or take public transportation, then you can only shop at the places in your neighborhood, and you are forced to pay whatever they charge. That is EXACTLY what I was doing. I had the option to head out to Costco or Shoppers and decided instead to replicate as close as possible the REAL experience of someone who can't afford a car and is constrained by public transportation.

Here in Boise, we are blessed to be compact enough that most of our lower-income folks live within walking distance or a bus ride of a supermarket. However, as I've said many times before, bus riders must time their trips carefully so they can catch one of the buses that run only once an hour in most of the city, and not at all in the evenings or on Sundays. As for Costco, it's a reasonable hike from the nearest bus stop at Overland and Cole Road, but the quantities sold there make it impractical for shopping with anything less than a vehicle, anyway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Air quality info

With warm temperatures and lots of pollen, Boise's airshed has been a little murky these past few days. In fact, our air quality was only rated "moderate" today, and our particles count was as high as Los Angeles and higher than Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Click here to see current air quality conditions in Boise and here to compare our conditions with cities nationwide. On days with less-than-good air quality, we can all help by taking alternative modes of transportation, combining trips if we must drive, parking the lawnmower, and abiding by burn bans.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gas prices up - ridership, too

Valley Ride spokesman Mark Carnopis is quoted in the Statesman today as saying bus ridership on the intercounty lines is up 35.6 percent since fiscal year 2004 and 9.3 percent for the first six months of FY 2007. "We're looking at adding some larger buses on the inter-county route, because some of those buses are already over capacity," he said.

At a $2 to $4 roundtrip cost (cheaper with a monthly pass), riding the bus between Nampa or Caldwell and Boise just makes sense - if commuters can tweak their schedules to match that of the bus. Hint to to Valley Ride: If the buses are too crowded, don't just think about getting bigger buses. Do it. Nothing will turn off reluctant and casual riders more than not being able to find a seat.

Through the eyes of others

One rewarding - sometimes sobering - aspect of riding the bus is getting a glimpse of what it's like to live as a person with a handicap. Of course, people with disabilities are much more reliant on public transportation than the general public. Imagine trying to coordinate your daily routine to match a bus system that runs less than 12 hours a day, and only once an hour midday on many routes ... one on which some transfers are all but impossible - unless you want to wait another hour. It's not pretty.

Yesterday, a man with a wheelchair got off the Vista bus with me at the northwest corner of Overland. I'd never before realized this, but there is no curb cut on the Vista side of the northeast corner at that intersection, though there are at the other three.

In other words, had the man wanted to transfer to the westbound Overland bus at the northeast corner, he would have had to cross first to the southwest corner, then to the southeast, then to the northeast. Of course, he probably would miss the Overland bus at that point anyway, since the schedule has it arriving at the intersection about a minute before the Vista bus.

How silly is it that a major intersection like Vista-Overland doesn't have curb cuts on each corner? Drivers don't notice things like this, and able-bodied pedestrians don't either. But people who use wheelchairs or walkers or guide dogs are all too aware. Yesterday, for a moment, I was, too.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Will a one-day gas boycott help?

Once again, there's an email going around encouraging drivers to boycott gas stations on May 15. The idea is that if millions of Americans refuse to buy fuel on one day, prices will come down.

The problem is, people who buy gas every few days or even every week will simply fill up on May 14, or wait until May 16. The oil companies won't notice a thing.

If American motorists really wanted to do something to affect the situation, we wouldn't simply refuse to buy gas on May 15. We'd refuse to drive on May 15. We'd walk, bike, or take the bus. (Forget carpooling this one day, OK?)

It's one thing to have a bunch of drivers not buying gas on one day.
It'd be another entirely if those drivers simply refused to drive.

Or as petroleum analyst Marc Routt told the Detroit Free Press: “The only thing that does work, in terms of lower prices, is a change of lifestyle and habit.”

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

No free rides to the public this May

It's May, and that means it's time once again for May in Motion, Valley Regional Transit's annual attempt to get more of us to ride the bus, walk, bike, or carpool. Last year, Boise buses were free to ride all month long. A year or two before that (maybe both), May in Motion meant free rides on Fridays. But the free rides are gone this year, replaced by an effort to help employers earn free bus passes for their employees.

May in Motion events include an alternative transportation fair from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Wednesday, May 2, on 8th Street between Idaho and Bannock. A Bike and Walk to Work Day celebration and breakfast is planned at the same location from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on May 18.

Final April stats

I rode the bus 28 times in April, a new monthly high for me. My trips were mostly on the #3 Vista, as usual, but I took the #14 Hyde Park for the first time, and I shepherded my daughter and four of her friends on the Roosevelt bus one afternoon. It was the first city bus ride for all but two of them. They had a blast; they weren't even fazed by the fact we had to catch the Roosevelt because the Vista had been delayed by a flat tire!

I had ten car-free days in April, yet I still wound up driving 351 miles, 100 more than in March. But with a total of fewer than 1,200 miles logged so far in 2007, I felt safe asking my insurance agent for the low-mile discount available to those who drive less than 7,500 miles a year. It's not much of a discount, but combined with my savings in fuel, parking, and vehicle wear-and-tear, it adds up.

Just today, I filled up the gas tank for the first time since April 3. I paid $2.95 a gallon at the Boise Avenue Maverik, one of the last stations in town with fuel at less than $3 a gallon. I wonder what it'll cost hereabouts by Memorial Day?

Monday, April 30, 2007

Transit tidbits

Boise's bus system has been in the news a few times in recent days. From a story Sunday in the Idaho Statesman:

Valley Regional Transit officials say they aren't sure yet what caused a propane-powered bus to burst into flames last month, but a City of Boise audit reports ongoing problems in the transit agency's maintenance department. ...

... During the review, an inspection of 15 vehicle maintenance files revealed a number of issues. Most preventative maintenance inspections were not completed on time. Lifetime vehicle mileage was entered incorrectly into the computer system, so preventative maintenance schedules were off.Quality checks of vehicle inspection reports weren't completed.

Most problems identified in the audit have since been corrected, according to the audit report.

The same story reported that local bus ridership is showing some modest increases. Valley Ride had 378,513 passengers from Oct. 1, 2005 to Feb. 28, 2006 and 392,553 for the same period in 2006-2007.

In other recent news, the Statesman reported that transit advocates plan to bring the local option tax plan back to the Idaho Legislature in 2008 and, if that doesn't work, try a citizen initiative in 2010. What's the saying about insanity being the practice of doing the same thing and expecting different results? But sources close to the debate tell me that a few area lawmakers who voted no on local option have received negative feedback from constituents, and that transit backers plan to do a better job countering the limited opposition to the bill.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Seattle sojourn savings

My husband and I went to Seattle for a few days this week for our anniversary. We stayed with friends in the Wallingford neighborhood northeast of downtown. Now, we could have rented a car, or taken the Gray Line Seattle Airporter, which falsely bills itself as "the least expensive transportation between the downtown Seattle hotels and the Seattle-Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport." (It starts at $10.25 one way.) But of course, we opted instead for the King County Metro No. 194 bus, which expresses its way up I-5 to downtown. Cost: $1.50, or $1.25 in non-peak hours. Such a deal!

Once downtown, we switched to the No. 16 Northgate bus, which serves downtown, Wallingford and the U-District. It stopped along Stone Way just two blocks from our friends' place. Total travel time from the airport to Wallingford was just about an hour, in early rush-hour traffic. Total cost for two: $3.

Seattle is friendly to people who want to use alternative transportation, so much so that our friends have managed with just one car for a family of four for 15 years. They frequently ride their bikes to work and had a drawer full of bus schedules for various parts of the city, with three routes within a few blocks of their home.

Seattle also is looking forward to the opening of light-rail service from downtown to Sea-Tac in 2009. Many of the tracks downtown appear ready to go; the stretches by the airport are still under construction. In his visit to Boise a few weeks ago, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels offered his city's light-rail experience as a cautionary tale in how long it takes to plan and build transit: King County voted for its light rail in 1988.

One more note: This weekend, Seattle begins Elliot Bay water-taxi service between West Seattle and the downtown waterfront.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More publicity for TRAX

The Salt Lake City area's popular TRAX light rail was showcased in an article in The New York Times on Sunday. The article, by reporter Keith Schneider, describes how light rail is leading to a transit-oriented development boom of reasonably priced housing in the Salt Lake suburbs:

Mary Ann Downs, 22, an interior designer, moved into her $193,000 three-bedroom home at Waverly Station in February. Ms. Downs is happy to be near the TRAX system — she plans to use it this spring when the light rail connects to the new commuter line — and she also likes her neighbors.

One of them is David Bailey, 28, who works for a jewelry dealer. He bought a two-bedroom home for $205,000. He said access to the TRAX line, which he rides to basketball and football games downtown, played a part in his decision to buy. “I really feel as gas prices go up, homes near public transportation will increase in value,” he said.

Read more here. Thanks to Zach for the tip.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Parking up the wrong tree

Pardon the bad pun, in honor of this Earth Day season.

The other day at the Downtown Boise Association annual meeting, DBA director Karen Sander noted with satisfaction that the visitor count for the downtown public parking lots jumped from 657,160 customers in 2005 to 844,762 in 2006. Of course, this means more people are shopping, dining, and recreating downtown.

But if parking is up by roughly a quarter, that means traffic is, too. Anyone who has seen - or experienced - the three-block-line behind the 9th Street parking garage entrance at BoDo understands this all too well.

The DBA wants more and better transit, but I don't see downtown doing as much as it could to promote or augment use of the bus system we already have, other than the well-used BSU football shuttle it offers on game days in the fall. With or without the help of Valley Ride, Downtown Boise ought to be looking at park-and-ride (or walk) lots on the fringes of downtown, paired with a circulator shuttle bus or trolley for those unable to walk; merchant discounts for people who show their bus pass; and much higher parking rates, at least during the day when buses are available.

There's a lot going on downtown during the day this Saturday, from the re-opening of the Capital City Public Market to Earth Day festivities at Julia Davis Park. If you hear of friends planning trips downtown this weekend, why not suggest that they give the bus a try?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bike Congress at BSU

I thought Bikeboy would have something about this on his blog, but not yet. This Friday is the annual Bike Congress at Boise State, where you can hear speakers discuss - among other things - bike-friendly campuses and the perils of car doors opening in bike lanes. Here's the full schedule.

When I bike, I'm currently riding a second- or third-hand 10-speed (or is it 15?). But if I had more disposable income, I think I'd spring for one of the $500 Lime bikes (as seen in the Idaho Statesman today, and here) from Trek, with three gears that shift automatically. With just three speeds, I'm not sure the Lime would have enough juice to get me up Protest Hill, but I suppose I could get off and walk - or put it on the bus bike rack!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Raising a generation of riders

Some of my fondest memories of growing up in Pittsburgh involve riding our trolleys and buses. I'm confident that my adolescent adventures on transit made me the committed bus rider I am today. And the earlier we can start, the better.

I went downtown on the #3 Vista earlier than usual today, sharing my ride with lots of Boise High School students. But the trip back two hours later was even better: Two dozen preschoolers and their teachers from a downtown day-care center clambered on board at 8th and Idaho and rode across downtown to story time at the library. They were all smiles and giggles, and one of the teachers told me the kids absolutely love to ride the bus.

An hour before, at the annual breakfast meeting of the Downtown Boise Association, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter remarked that his own daughter is in love with the book The Wheels on the Bus. "I'm working on a version with a train," he added. (Bieter and visiting leaders from other cities had more to say about transit and other topics. See my report at Red State Rebels.)

Right now, bus riding has a rap among too many people as the transportation option of last resort. But if we can change that image to one of fun, adventure, and camaraderie - clearly the way the preschoolers view it - not to mention that it's the right thing to do to cut traffic and air pollution ... well, maybe we can raise a generation of riders who believe public transit is the best way to go.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Paper slams 'petty parochialism'

Kevin Richert, editorial page editor of the Idaho Statesman, had this to say in his weekly column on Sunday. (I'm repeating it all here since the Statesman only leaves stories up for two weeks.)

On Monday, the Department of Commerce and Labor told us something we already knew:

The Treasure Valley is growing — rapidly.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers, 22,499 newcomers moved to the Boise-Nampa metropolitan area between 2005 and 2006.

During that same period of time, Idaho's overall population grew by 37,098.

So let's do the math, because it is startling. Slightly more than 60 percent of Idaho's population increase — growth that, in turn, directly influences state income and sales tax collections — occurred in this one corner of the state. The public policy imperative could not be more clear. The state has a direct financial stake in the Valley's continued growth, and in helping the Valley's local governments keep up with the demands of growth.

When rural legislators refuse to budge to help on Valley issues such as community colleges, local-option taxes for transit or highway construction, they aren't just exercising petty parochialism. They are punishing the part of the state that shoulders an increasing share of the load to pay for public schools and Medicaid services all over the state. That is simply foolish public policy.

I wish the Valley population numbers had come out during the disappointing and just-completed legislative session.

Then again, I'm not sure some legislators would have been persuaded.

Transit is Topic A at Bench meeting

I missed the District 17 legislative wrapup last week, but apparently, public transit was the most-discussed topic at the Borah High School meeting. Here's an excerpt from the email newsletter sent afterward by Sen. Elliot Werk and Reps. Sue Chew and Bill Killen:

"We spent about 45 minutes discussing the failure of the legislature to allow our community to decide whether to support enhanced public transportation funding. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee rejected, on an 11-7 vote, local option taxing authority for the Treasure Valley that would allow our community (with a 2/3 super majority vote) to improve our public transportation system.

"Amazingly, three Treasure Valley Representatives (Mike Moyle, Gary Collins, and Bob Schaefer) voted to kill this legislation. The bill was supported by a very broad cross-section of interests in the Valley from the business community, to low income citizens, to environmental advocates, to regular citizens. There was no organized opposition.

"The most compelling argument in support of the bill for rural legislators came from Rep. (Leon) Smith (a former mayor and Idaho Transportation Board member). He made the point that if the legislature does not allow the Treasure Valley to take care of our issues that eventually the entire state would be doing so as we demand ever more of the transportation funding to expand our road system to the detriment of rural communities.

"The opposition seemed to be a combination of a dogmatic view that all taxes are bad and a distrust of local government by legislators that believe that they somehow know what is better for local communities than the communities themselves.

"There was also discussion about light rail, the need to move forward with both public transportation and highway improvements, and what could be done to gain a different result in the committee.

"This issue will come back to the legislature in future years. In addition, Representative Killen is working on other avenues to secure funding. Stay tuned!"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Step It Up, Boise

Would you like to ask Congress to seek an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 - or 2 percent each year? That's the goal of the Step It Up campaign, which has more than 1,300 events planned nationwide this Saturday, April 14.

Boise's main event, the Concert for Climate Action, set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Julia Davis Park, will include speakers, displays, and local entertainers Steve Eaton, Stella, Farmdog, The Hoochie Coochie Men, and Underscore. See more information here, and plan to show your support for a saner energy future by attending Step It Up on Saturday.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Starting light rail at 600K

In 1981, Calgary, Alberta, launched a light rail service to complement its bus system. The local population was about 600,000 people, according to Glen Radway, a Calgary city planner who visited Boise last week.

Fast forward a quarter century. Calgary's population has passed a million and is on track to hit 1.28 million by 2025. The two-line light rail system has spurred transit-oriented development near some of its stops, and the appetite is strong for more. But improvements and expansion take time; this page at Calgary Transit's website explains how, although an added line was approved in 1990, its construction has not yet begun.

The lessons here for Boise? Although many here say that Boise doesn't have the population base to support light rail, the Treasure Valley's current population is closing in on the level at which Calgary launched its CTrain system. But even more critical is the fact that our rapid growth will make it more difficult in the future to secure the right of way and funding necessary to make light rail work here. That, of course, is what the proposed local option tax would have made possible - along with a much-improved bus system that has to come before light rail, anyway.

Transit planners need to think and budget decades ahead, which is why Boise's current lack of adequate transit is so alarming. If we're this far behind in 2007, how far behind will we be when our population hits a million?

My family rides the bus!

Because my husband's working hours don't jibe with the bus schedule, transit isn't an option for him. And because buses don't run in the evenings when we usually go downtown for fun, we usually haven't taken transit, period.

But Friday, we had plans to meet friends downtown for an early supper at 4:30. The last bus home would leave at 6:15. "Let's take the bus," I said.

The three of us got to the corner of Vista and Overland well ahead of the bus expected there at 4 p.m. We waited ... and waited ... and waited. Finally, just when my husband was ready to walk home and get the car, I saw the bus in the distance, about 10 minutes late. It turned out a new driver was learning the route. Even with the delay, we made it downtown in plenty of time.

My husband commented that it was like being on vacation, since that's the only time he usually uses public transit. My daughter, a more frequent transit user, was nonchalant behind her white-rimmed shades and inscrutable adolescent demeanor. I was just happy that we were able to take a rare ride on our local bus as a family. Hey, it doesn't take much to make my day!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Canadian urban planners visit

Public transportation will be among the items up for discussion when urban planners from our neighbors to the north visit Boise as part of Boise State University's Canada Week events.

"Planning, Growth, and Development: The Vancouver and Calgary Experience" will be the topic at a talk from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 110 of the Enginering and Technology Building. Presenters Glen Radway of Calgary, Alberta, and John Madden of Vancouver, B.C., will share their thoughts and expertise on sustainable growth, transit, housing affordability, and more.

Madden and Radway will also be at a sustainable growth planning session from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Friday at Boise City Hall. People interested in attending that are asked to email

Monday, April 02, 2007

Transit got us here!

My daughter and I visited California for spring break. Aside from a few rides from friends and family, we took transit the entire week. The San Francisco Bay Area has a terrific website, Transit 511, that makes it easy to plot your travels by transit.

After flying to Oakland, we took the airport shuttle and BART to San Francisco, where my brother picked us up at the 16th & Mission subway station. The next few days, we mostly used the SF bus and trolley systems to get around, including the new Muni "T" line that is linking key San Francisco areas and adding economic development potential to some of the city's poorer neighborhoods.

Midweek, we headed down the coast to the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel. (The view above was the one from our window!) We got there by taking Caltrain to San Mateo, then the 294 samTrans bus. We also took the latter to Half Moon Bay and back one night for dinner. When it was time to head home, we took the 294 to Pacifica, the samTrans 110 bus to Daly City, then BART and AirBART back to Oakland Airport.

The Bay Area's transit systems seem extremely well-used and mostly well-loved. My biggest beef was a sign at the Powell Street Muni station downtown that seemed to show which lines served which stations. On closer inspection, I saw the sign was actually describing transfer points at those stations.

It's always a little confusing to navigate in a city you don't know well, especially one served by multiple bus and rail lines. But we found that transit personnel and local transit users (and my brother-in-law, Kevin) unfailingly pointed us in the right direction. As we fretted about finding the right side of the street for our bus in suburban San Mateo County, my daughter asked me why we just didn't rent a car. Three reasons, I said: to save money, to keep one more car off the road, and to have an adventure. We succeeded on all three counts.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Final March stats

I rode the bus 25 times in March. (I also spent spring break out of town, taking all sorts of public transit ... more on that in my next post.) I drove only 251 miles in March, for a grand total so far this year of just 822 miles. At this rate, I could drive fewer than 3,500 miles this year, except I know some long road trips will boost my totals. That's OK: I drive when I must, and I take transit when I can.

I last bought gas a month ago, and I still have close to a quarter tank left. That's a good feeling as prices edge back up toward $3 a gallon.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A 'surface subway' plan

Dave at the Boise Guardian has a plan:

We feel public transit needs to be dependable and frequent to get riders. Trains, light rail, trolleys, etc. have a major drawback—they are limited to riding the rails and they cost more than the entire budget of God. Buses can use existing streets and with existing technology they can make traffic signals go green (like the fire trucks do). The GUARDIAN plan calls for buses to pass by the “stations about every 20 minutes. Rather than wind around neighborhoods in ill fated attempts at being all things to all people, the GUARDIAN LINES will intersect for transfer purposes and get the average rider pretty close to their destination. We don’t claim to have a perfect solution, but with 3 buses on each of the streets identified in our route map we will have the ability to move a lot of people effectively. It will use 30 buses. The GUARDIAN has offered up the basic system. The rest of you can chomp on it, but we are seeking suggestions to get people to our “stations” which will be at each intersection on the map as well as at each end of the line. Think in terms of STATIONS and straight line routes. We can already see a potential Federal Way route in the future.

Read it all here. What do you think?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

City bus destroyed in fire

This probably won't help Valley Ride's efforts to entice new riders. From the Idaho Statesman:

Traffic was partially blocked in Downtown Boise this morning while crews worked to put out a fire on a city bus this morning.

Shortly after 8 a.m., Ada County dispatchers received a report that the engine compartment of a city bus had caught fire near 9th and Main streets.

No injuries have been reported in the incident, but the natural-gas powered bus was a total loss.

The fire began at about 8:15 a.m., when the bus driver was on a break, Boise Fire Department Capt. Tom Pawek said.

Another bus driver spotted the flames and called emergency dispatchers, but by the time police arrived less than a minute later, the rear of the bus was totally engulfed.

Pawek said a venting system built into the engine prevented a large natural gas explosion. Still, flames shot nearly three stories into the air.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known. Witnesses heard a whooshing and popping sound as the flames began, but Pawek said that could have been the safety venting system.

Similar natural gas bus fires are not uncommon in Boise, said Deputy Fire Chief Dave Hanneman.

“This is the fourth or fifth bus that I’ve seen catch fire in the past four or five years,” Hanneman said. “The natural gas fuels the fire, and that’s that.”

Read more here. Four or five bus fires in four or five years? That's too many.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My letter to the editor

I have a letter in the Idaho Statesman today, pasted below. Thanks to any newcomers who are checking out the blog after seeing the link:

Buses use ads

I had to laugh at Fred Birnbaum's March 19 letter accusing ValleyRide of silk-screening its buses so people can't see how few riders are inside. Actually, Fred, those buses are rolling billboards that help keep ValleyRide on the road. ValleyRide needs all the help it can get since our lawmakers refuse to give Treasure Valley citizens local control over transit funding.

Speaking of those ads, one is from a major local homebuilding company. I don't want to pick on this company, but the philosophy behind its bus slogan — Live Large — explains why our air is foul and our roads are clogged. People who buy big homes usually live far away from work, shopping, schools and entertainment. When we choose instead to live a little smaller and closer to our workplaces, our kids' schools, and shopping, we can take the bus, walk or bike more often. For more on these issues, see

I wasn't surprised to see rural legislators like Lenore Barrett and Ken Roberts deny local control to the Treasure Valley. Local Reps. Mike Moyle, Gary Collins and Robert Schaefer are the fellas who ought to be ashamed — and who ought to be replaced next November.

Julie Fanselow, Boise

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Otter admits secret transit passion

You know, admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving it. Gov. Butch Otter admitted last week we have a transit problem in the Treasure Valley. And he told how, while living in Washington, D.C. as a congressman, he never had a car. He usually walked to work, but if the weather was bad, he'd take the city's popular (but still subsidized) Metro subway to work. Despite the taxpayer subsidies, he apparently enjoyed it.

Alas, now that he's back here in Idaho, Otter drives to work by himself. It's the Idaho way, and Otter doesn't see that changing any time soon. He says he would've signed the local option taxing authority bill had it hit his desk, but he'd have opposed the tax at the ballot box. Read more at the Idaho Business Review and Boise Weekly.

Itty-bitty Jackson trumps Boise bus sked

I was in Jackson, Wyoming, on business last week. Jackson and Teton County have a population of about 20,000, or one-tenth that of Boise - but Jacksonians enjoy bus service from Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit from 6:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night, as this sign attests. What's more, the in-town circulator bus is free. Did I mention it runs seven days a week?

START is funded by city and county tax dollars as well as some federal money. In addition to the free in-town bus, a favorite with skiers this time of year, it has fare-based routes to Jackson Hole Resort and the commuter communities of Star Valley to Jackson's south. Next month, START will begin service to the Idaho side of the Tetons, with two daily round-trip runs from Jackson to Victor and Driggs. There's even talk of extending service to Grand Teton National Park.

START buses are beautiful vehicles, some of them wrapped in scenic shots of the Teton area. The system had 625,000 riders last year - a new record. I wonder how that compares to Valley Ride's annual ridership.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Was transit bill kill GOP payback?

Writing on his blog at the Idaho Business Journal, er, Review, John M. Foster wonders whether the House Rev & Tax committee killed the local option transit bill partially as political payback to Treasure Valley GOP legislators who favored Nampa businessman Bill Deal over Lawerence Denney for House speaker. Read Foster's blog here. Thanks to The MountainGoat Report for the tip.

Monday, March 12, 2007

So ... now what?

The local option funding idea is dead for 2007. The issue will probably resurface in next year's legislature, but since the players won't change, I can't see the results being different. New leadership in the legislature in 2009 could certainly make a difference - both in local option progress and maybe even some general fund money for public transit needs - but that's two years away at best.

So what are other ways the Treasure Valley could improve its public transit with the existing funding, or via funding that could come without the legislature's assent? This is an open thread.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Committee torpedoes transit chances

I guess this shouldn't surprise anyone, but farmers from Rexburg, Donnelly, and Rigby today helped deny the right of a half-million Treasure Valley citizens to decide for ourselves whether we want a decent public transit system.

On a 11-7 vote, the House Rev & Tax Committee killed House Bill 246. The vote was mostly along party lines, with only Rep. Leon Smith - a Twin Falls Republican - joining the panel's five Democrats in an effort to defeat Rep. Ken Roberts' motion to hold the bill in committee.

After more than two hours of testimony yesterday and today that overwhelmingly favored the bill, Smith - a mediator and attorney by profession - moved it be sent to the full House. Failure to do so, he added, would "destroy the work of so many people over several years" to give Treasure Valley residents a shot at passing a local option tax to fund transit.

As galling as it is that rural legislators can decide urban issues, the panel's western Treasure Valley contingent didn't help matters. Reps. Mike Moyle of Star and Gary Collins and Robert Schaefer of Nampa all voted to kill the bill, and all sat mostly silent during the hearings. The panel also was stone-faced on bill sponsor Roy Eiguren's challenge, offered yesterday and repeated today: If a local option tax isn't the answer to the Treasure Valley's pressing transit needs, what is?

Update 11:45: I just got an email from House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, a panel member, who said committee chair Dennis Lake, also voted to send the bill to the House.

It's up to you, Rev & Tax

The Idaho Statesman editorializes:

Do 18 legislators want to do the thinking for 500,000 people?
We'll find out this morning.

Today, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee will vote on a bill to allow the Treasure Valley to pursue a local sales tax for public transit.

If these lawmakers recognize the Valley's traffic and air quality problem is on a fast lane to crisis, they'll vote yes.

If they value a conservative but responsive tax code, they'll vote yes.

If they mean what they say about local control, they'll vote yes.

Read more here. I'm heading back to the Statehouse in an hour or so for the conclusion of yesterday's hearing and the vote. I'll report more later.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Transit hearing continued ...

The House Rev & Tax Committee began hearing House Bill 246 this morning, but since a greater-than-expected number of people signed up to testify, the hearing will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 404. Presumably, the panel will also vote Wednesday on whether or not to send the legislation to the full House.

About three-quarters of the people who testified Tuesday favored the bill. The major exceptions were three representatives from the National Federation of Independent Business, who complained that a local option tax for transit would put small businesses at a competitive disadvantage and prove onerous for businesses to collect and report. Rep. Nicole LeFavour noted, however, that a local option tax would be collected and administered by the state tax commission.

Other speakers in opposition included one man who said he ran the city bus system a quarter-century ago (when it did just fine for ridership, he said) and another whose long and rambling testimony seemed to center on his assertion that local air quality isn't as bad as everyone thinks. Fortunately, the panel was able to accommodate the folks who came from out of town to testify, as well as several visually impaired transit users who made the trip to the statehouse.

Here are a few comments from those who spoke in favor of the bill:

Bill sponsor Roy Eiguren reiterated that Boise State University found that 85 percent of people surveyed this winter believe that the state should allow transit expansion via local option taxes. He challenged the committee that if it decides not to allow this bill to go to the full House, "we would implore you" to suggest another acceptable means of funding transit.

Chuck Winder, co-chair of the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation, noted that many opponents point to empty seats on the buses as reason to oppose enhanced transit. But he noted that most passenger cars and trucks have empty seats, too, and that the Treasure Valley needs to move beyond the Old West mentality that demands a horse - or vehicle - for every person.

Coalition co-chair Mayor Garret Nancolas of Caldwell reminded legislators that no one is asking them to approve a tax, but simply to authorize the mechanism by which local citizens can decide for themselves whether to better fund public transit. He also noted that commuter service between Caldwell and Ada County is already running above capacity.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter remarked how, since Salt Lake City implemented its light rail system,
demand has been far beyond what anyone expected. He also noted that a Boise-based manufacturer of commuter locomotives, MotivePower, has seen its employment more than double in recent years due to national demand for its products.

Several speakers noted how more people would use Valley Ride if it had better hours and more frequent service. Boise resident Kevin Bayhouse said it best when he noted that most people won't use transit systems that are perceived as incomplete, and that people deserve a chance to vote on a transit system that can "compete with their cars."

Stay tuned ...

Update: Idaho Statesman opinion page editor Kevin Richert writes in his blog, "Testimony ran in favor of the bill by a 14-5 count. My guess: The committee vote Wednesday will be a lot closer."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Reminder: Transit bill hearing is Tuesday

Just a reminder that tomorrow - Tuesday, March 6 - the Idaho House Revenue & Taxation Committee will hear House Bill 246, which would amend Idaho law to allow regional public transportation authorities in Idaho to seek a local sales and use tax to fund better public transit.

The hearing is set for 9 a.m. in the Gold Room - the room where hearings are scheduled when the committee expects a crowd. Even there, seating is limited, so arrive early if you plan to testify

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Final February stats

I rode the bus 23 times in February, including one new route (#4 Roosevelt). Back at the end of January, I challenged myself to get through February without buying gas, and I easily achieved that. (I still have about a quarter-tank!)

So far this year, I've driven 571 miles. Last year, my total mileage was 9,646 (including two road trips to Wyoming and some medium-distance driving around Idaho, to the Magic Valley and McCall). I aim to get that below 6,000 this year.

My goals for March: Ride the bus 25 times. Take at least one new route. Buy gas once. Advocate for passage of House Bill 246, the bill that would allow Idaho communities to pursue local option funding for better transit. The Idaho House Revenue & Taxation Committee will hear the bill Tuesday, March 6, at 9 a.m.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Transit funding bill will be printed

The Idaho House Revenue & Taxation Committee on Tuesday voted to print a bill that would allow local communities to ask voters for funds to greatly improve public transit.

This is an important first step toward helping the Treasure Valley get a 21st century transit system, attract economic development, improve our quality of life, and avoid federal penalties for air quality "non attainment." If the bill runs the remaining gauntlets, it would allow Ada and Canyon county (along with other localities in recognized transportation districts) to ask voters whether to adopt a local option sales tax of up to one-half cent. In the Treasure Valley, such funding would mean much more frequent bus service with longer hours; expanded routes to outlying communities; and funding to preserve rail corridor for possible future light rail. (Read more here.)

The bill will now move on to a regular hearing by the committee, although today's print hearing was quite extensive. Rep. Leon Smith (R-Twin Falls) moved that the bill be printed, noting, "I don't think anyone denies the need for public transportation in the Treasure Valley," and adding that the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation - including more than 40 area legislators, officials, and business leaders - did "a tremendous job" of setting out its case.

Rep. Ken A. Roberts (R-Donnelly) countered with a motion to return the proposed bill, suggesting that instead of a sales tax, proponents ought to pursue a head tax on Ada and Canyon county residents who would benefit most from better transit. "Let the people pay for it that cause the problem," he said. "Bring the bill that has it based on a head tax, and I'll help get it through."

In the end, Roberts' motion to return the proposed bill failed by two votes. Smith's motion to print was approved 11-6, with six Republicans (Treasure Valley reps Gary Collins, Mike Moyle, and Robert Schaefer plus Leon Smith, Dell Raybould, and R.J. Harwood) joining all five Democrats (George Sayler, Wendy Jaquet, Nicole LeFavour, Bill Killen, and James Ruchti) in assent.

The bill still faces daunting odds in its committee hearing - and even if the legislature approves the local option taxing authority, a sales tax would need a two-thirds supermajority to pass. It may still be a very long time before the Treasure Valley gets a decent transit system, but today's action was an important first step in that direction.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

This is the week

The legislation to OK a vote on a local option tax for transit will finally come to the House Revenue & Tax Commitee this week. The print hearing for the bill is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room 404 of the Statehouse in Boise. Please contact your legislators, especially the following folks, in support of giving local citizens the right to seek funding for better transit!

Chair Dennis M. Lake Republican District 28, Blackfoot
Robert E. Schaefer, Republican District 12, Nampa
R. J. Harwood, Republican District 2, St. Maries
Scott Bedke, Republican District 27, Oakley

Thursday, February 22, 2007

COMPASS forum this Saturday

The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) plans a forum this Saturday (February 24) on putting its long-range Communities in Motion transportation plan into action. The event runs between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the Best Western Vista Inn at the Airport, oh-so-convienently located along the #3 Vista line, by the way.

People can stop by anytime during the day to look at exhibits or sit in on presentations and panel discussions. (Here's a list.) The most interesting panel may well be one planned for 4 p.m., titled "Politics and Reality." Or, in other words, how do you create a public transit system for a growing metro area when a few obstinate state legislators hold the power to approve or deny local communities' ability to adequately fund decent transit?

81 miles in three days

Two steps forward, one step back.

Just last week, I was crowing about how I managed not to use my car for nearly a full week. Well, this week, I managed to put 81 miles on the car in just three days. Bleah.

My cell phone died on Monday, and I had to drive all the way to Meridian to exchange it. Fortunately (I guess), I already had previous plans to attend a meeting in Meridian that day, so I was able to combine the two errands. Unfortunately (but predictably), the line at the cell-phone store was moving like molasses, so - although I'd allowed 20 minutes for that - it wasn't enough. I had to leave the line, drive across Meridian to the meeting, then return to wait in line some more. Then I had to go out of my way on the way home to pick up my daughter and her friends, whom I'd left at the mall three hours earlier. Total: More than 40 miles. (Aside to people who drive on Eagle Road every day: How can you stand it?!)

Tuesday and Wednesday, I had two short dental appointments of about 10 minutes each. In neither case - given the hourlong midday wait time between buses - did it make any sense to take the bus like I did for my cleaning last week. Tuesday night, I had a meeting and had to drive downtown. (I added a few errands en route to make the trip more worthwhile.) Wednesday morning, my daughter had an orthodontist appointment. That afternoon, she stayed after school to see her teacher and missed the bus. Then Wednesday night, she had a youth group meeting at our church in Garden City, so there was another 16-mile round trip.

Those little trips really add up, and over the course of two days, I somehow added another 40 miles. On the other hand, as of this morning, I've driven only 481 miles so far this year and my fuel tank is just now nudging the halfway mark after my last fillup (January 29). Time to climb back on the wagon - er, the bus!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

85% of Idahoans want transit tax power

The Idaho Statesman reports this morning that a new Boise State University survey found that an overwhelming majority of Idahoans want the power to tax themselves for better public transit. Read the story here.

Reporter Greg Hahn also wrote that House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Dennis Lake "said he received a copy of a tax-for-transit bill Tuesday. He already has two other local option proposals in hand, he said, and the committee should consider introducing them early next week."

Also of interest from the BSU survey: "Just 2 percent said they use mass transit now, but 16 percent said they would consider it if gas prices were between $2 and $3. If gas prices reach $4 to $5, 57 percent of Idahoans would consider commuting via mass transit."

Gas prices are already between $2 and $3. Hey 16 percent - what are you waiting for?! Oh yeah ... more frequent transit with longer hours, probably.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Advocates for blind seek bus boost

I wish I had something new to report about the local option tax legislation. I'm checking the House Revenue & Taxation Committee calendars daily to see if it's coming up. You can do the same; click here. (The committee usually meets at 9 a.m., so it's best to check the day before.) I understand Rep. Nicole LeFavour will introduce it to the committee before too long.

Meanwhile, I heard Rep. Phylis King (D-Boise, District 18) say tonight that she recently met with leaders from the National Federation for the Blind and they had only two requests: better public transportation and more opportunities for blind students to be taught by blind teachers. It's no surprise that people with all sorts of disabilities rely heavily on bus transportation. Some us ride the bus by choice; people with disabilities ride as a necessity, and their ranks are growing fast as our population ages. The needs of disabled and senior riders ought to be paramount as legislators decide whether or not we ought to improve our bare-bones Boise bus system.