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Friday, January 26, 2007

What a half-cent would buy

The Coalition for Regional Public Transportation plans to introduce legislation that would seek local option transit funding permission. Coalition leaders addressed a gathering of Treasure Valley legislators on Friday, seeking support for a proposal that would allow Idaho communities to seek voter approval (in the 2008 general election) to levy a local option sales tax to fund better public transportation.

How much better? A half-cent increase would generate $29 million in its first year. (Valley Ride currently operates its bare-bones system on $7 million to $8 million a year.) Asked what that would buy, Valley Ride director Kelli Fairless said it would provide for:
  • Greatly enhanced bus service in the urban areas of Ada and Canyon counties, with buses running from about 5 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. (Service now stops before 7 p.m., earlier on some routes.)
  • Expanded intercounty service between Ada and Canyon counties.
  • Buses every 15 minutes, instead of the 30- to 60-minute intervals we have now.
  • More service for smaller communities throughout the two-county area, such as "demand response" or dial-a-ride transit.
  • Money to start planning for future needs, including acquiring right-of-way for a possible light-rail system.
Fairless noted that in two recent surveys, Valley Ride asked what it would take to get people onto transit, and respondents said it needs to be almost as convenient as using their own vehicle. Greatly expanded hours and much more frequent service are the keys to that satisfaction, and this plan would deliver both.

Expanded transit also would help our local business leaders who are trying to attract new companies. These days, economic development officials must "tap dance" (in the words of Boise Metro Chamber senior VP Ray Stark) around the issue of whether we have adequate public transit. Dan Stevens, CEO of Home Federal Bancorp and a co-chair of the coalition, says relocating companies want to know how employees can get to work, and that they view public transit as part of that equation. "In order to be competitive, it's important that we have that arrow in our quiver," he said.

Coalition co-chair Mayor Garret Nancolas of Caldwell added that the mass transit issue is inextricably tied to local air quality. All the pending legislation seeks is the chance for local officials to ask voters whether they want improved transit and are willing to pay for it. "We can't even ask them that now," he said.

Stay tuned to the Boise Bus Blog for more coverage.


yossarian_22 said...

If the bill passes, it truly will create exciting opportunities for Boise transit.

Seemingly little things like extended run times and shorter headway (frequency) really make a huge difference, in addition to new routes.

Julie in Boise said...

I really was surprised to learn how much more service we'd get for so little.

Remember, though: the bill would just allow Ada and Canyon counties to seek the local option tax.

wolf21m said...

Julie, technically not true. The bill is not limited to Ada & Canyon counties. Otherwise it would be unconsititutional. The bill is limited to established regional transportation authorities. Of which, Ada/Canyon is currently the only one in Idaho. Others could be established elsewhere in the state with a vote of the citizens. The Ada/Canyon vote establishing VRT as the Regional Transit Authority was held about 10 years ago. It can be extended to other counties with the vote of the counties (not sure of Ada/Canyon also has to agree). Thus, Payette and Boise county (and others), could vote to establish their own RTA (hopefully not), or vote to join VRT.

wolf21m said...

BTW, if this passes, I would expect a RTA to be established in the Sun Valley/Hailey, Bellvue area, enabling transit up and down their coridor. Today Sun Valley pays for their transit from their resort tax, but hailey can't join in (not qualified as a resort).

Anonymous said...

There currently are two regional public transportation authorities in the state - Valley Regional Transit and the Targee Regional Public Transportation Authority in Bonneville County.
There is Idaho law that oulines how a city, county, etc. can form a RPTA.