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.
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.