The best bus ever

The best bus ever
Jason Sievers' awesome Art in Transit bus

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.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A compromise in the works?

UPDATE Friday, Feb. 16: A letter from state Rep. Nicole LeFavour - who sits on Rev & Tax - makes it clear: More voices are needed from outside Boise to press for local option taxing authority for transit. Nicole also believes it's a mistake to settle for the supermajority level, since that is mainly used for emergency school bonds (many of which do not pass at that level). She writes: "If we wait until public transportation is an emergency, it will be many times more costly to build. Also in some cases it will then be too late to prevent the need for more and more very costly urban highway projects."

So bottom line - please contact your friends and family outside Boise and ask them to contact the committee in support of a local option tax bill that allows passage with a 60 percent majority.

The folks from Idaho Smart Growth have sent word that a compromise may be in the works on a local option transit bill, and that the legislation will probably hit the House Revenue & Tax Committee next week.

Basically, since Rev & Tax balked at lowering the supermajority for a community college district last week, transit advocates know they'll need to seek a 66 2/3rds percent vote for transit, too. However, they're hoping that in return, the law would permit the issue to appear on any May or November - not November in an even year, as advocates would have accepted in trade for a lower pass threshold.

So again: It's time to tell everyone you know who lives in districts represented by the folks below to contact their legislator(s) and express support for local option funding authority for public transit. The lawmakers are:

Chair Dennis M. Lake Republican District 28, Blackfoot
Vice Chair Gary E. Collins, Republican District 12, Nampa
Lenore Hardy Barrett, Republican District 35, Challis
Mike Moyle, Republican District 14, Star
Robert E. Schaefer, Republican District 12, Nampa
Leon E. Smith, Republican District 24, Twin Falls
Dell Raybould, Republican District 34, Rexburg
Ken A. Roberts, Republican District 8, Donnelly
JoAn E. Wood, Republican District 35, Rigby
Jim Clark, Republican District 3, Hayden Lake
R. J. Harwood, Republican District 2, St. Maries
Scott Bedke, Republican District 27, Oakley
Phil Hart, Republican District 3, Athol
George C. Sayler, Democrat District 4, Coeur d'Alene
Wendy Jaquet, Democrat District 25, Ketchum
Nicole LeFavour, Democrat District 19, Boise
Bill Killen, Democrat District 17, Boise
James D. Ruchti, Democrat District 29, Pocatello

I drive for the first time in a week

Hey, I have a new record: I went from last Thursday night through this morning, nearly a week, without driving. I broke my chain of car-less days only because my daughter woke up late today, missed her bus, and needed a ride to school.

On top of that, I drove only twice the week before: to church, because there's no bus service on Sundays, and last Thursday because my daughter needed something at a shop 3 miles away after the buses stopped. Granted, I was in the Seattle area last weekend, but I relied on transit and friends to get around there.

This week back in Boise, I took a brand-new-to-me route (#4 Roosevelt) to my dentist. That was especially cool: The bus arrived five minutes before my 9 a.m. appointment, and the next one came at 10:25, about 15 minutes after I was done.

I'm learning to consolidate errands very well. For example, after my dentist appointment, I had a noon meeting at the Statehouse, so I filled that hour-and-a-half with errands I'd "collected" for that morning: buying my brother's birthday present and my husband's Valentine's Day gift, picking up some office supplies, and visiting the library.

And this morning, when my kid needed a ride, I combined that with the car-based stuff I'd been "saving" for the next time I needed to drive: taking two bags of glass to the recycling bin at BSU and making a major grocery run. (I do most of my shopping on foot to the Albertsons three blocks away, but once every two weeks or so I make a trip with my car to buy the bulkier stuff.)

I will need to drive again tomorrow, since my daughter and I are attending something that'll keep us downtown into the evening. (Well, I may be able to convince her to walk!) But after that, I'll start gunning for another record and see if I can break my near-weeklong stretch of enjoying the car-free life.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Keeping the pressure on Rev & Tax

There's still no word when the House Rev & Tax Committee may take up a measure to allow a vote on local option funding for public transit. But the Idaho Statesman has been sounding a steady drumbeat for the issue this week, mostly along the lines of how better transit is a must if we are going to curb worsening air quality.

In an editorial in today's edition, the newspaper implored Gov. Butch Otter to make air quality as much a priority as water supply, and noted that he could hold sway over recalcitrant Canyon County lawmakers who are loathe to pass local-option measures. The Statesman editorial board wrote: "As a former legislator who represented Canyon County in the 1970s, Otter understands the area's constituency. Canyon County voters know Otter and gave their favorite son 61 percent support three months ago. They may not heed air-quality warnings from Ada County officials — but they may give Otter a hearing."

And on Sunday, in an editorial chiding the Rev & Tax panel for its vote against lowering the supermajority for community college districts, the Statesman got in another strong argument for a local-option transit tax:

Don't think for a minute that this desire for control stops at the community college issue. It extends, now as ever, to the Legislature's historic reluctance to reduce the unrealistic two-thirds supermajority for approving school bond issues.

And it could extend, later this session, to the perennial question of local-option taxes.

A local coalition is working on a bill which could allow the Valley to collect a voter-approved sales tax for public transportation. This week, Stark said, the group could have a draft of a bill to take to Rev and Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot.

The details remain in flux — as local-option supporters try to find a magic number.

A bill establishing a simple-majority threshold could be dead on arrival. A 60 percent threshold may be a tough sell, especially considering the community college vote. The committee might go for a two-thirds supermajority. Then again, Stark says he doesn't know of a single state that requires two-thirds support for a local sales tax — and he's not sure a local-option sales tax could garner a two-thirds vote. "That's where our struggle comes in."

And it's the Valley's struggle. As the Valley's population grows toward 2030 projections of 1 million, it's time now to start planning for public transportation systems that relieve gridlock and reduce vehicle exhausts. And it's certainly time to give locally elected leaders the authority to make their pocketbook pitch to voters, and trust an engaged electorate of taxpayers to make a sound decision.

Kudos to the Statesman editorial board for following this issue so closely, and for calling on the Rev & Tax Committee to allow local control on local issues.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Airport bus service

I'm at the airport, through security, an hour and fifteen minutes early for a flight to Seattle. It was either this or take the next bus and arrive at the airport just a half-hour before the flight. That's never a good idea, even here at BOI.

Fortunately, with free, easy-connect Wi-Fi (thank you, Idaho Business Review) and the spacious food court area - complete with lovely natural light and the awesome "fire fountain" - BOI is a perfectly good place to wait for a flight. Still, if we're ever able to get expanded bus service, more people will take transit. Think of the parking fees and cab fares you can save - but not if the buses don't run when you need 'em.

As always, my top gripe is the lack of evening service. Last week, I flew home Friday from another trip and arrived 15 minutes after the last bus had departed. Of course, when I get home from this trip Sunday, there will be no service at all. Oh well - at least the taxi companies are happy. (Or maybe not: My cabbie last week told me that the city has licensed way too many rigs and he'd been waiting in the queue three hours.)

Better bus service would be an even bigger boon for visitors. Think of it: When you go to "real" cities, there's no need to rent a car because you can either take transit, hail a cab, or walk everywhere you need to go. For now, Valley Ride could do a better job promoting the bus to visitors, perhaps through an airport display or information in the city visitors guide. But in a city where "nobody rides the bus" is a constant refrain, even the transit company sometimes seems to believe it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

New links

I've added a few items to my links list at right. Inspired(?) by Bikeboy's reporting on the growing number of yellow-or-worse air days, there's a link to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality's daily air quality report, as well as to Bikeboy's blog (the charmingly named "Bike Nazi"), and Communities in Motion.

Enjoy, and if you have other transit-related sites to suggest, post them in the comments.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Transit funding may come up soon

My state Rep. Bill Killen tells me that the local option funding measure for transit may be coming before the House Revenue and Tax Committee soon - possibly this Thursday (February 8), and if not then, next week. As I wrote a few days ago, now is the time to contact the Rev & Tax members to express your support for the measure.

Boise-based legislators strongly favor local options authority for public transit. Rep. Branden Durst of District 18 explains two reasons why on his blog:

First, there is vicious storm on the horizon and if we don't act now the citizens of the Treasure Valley will lose out in a major way. This storm is the worsening air quality that will inevitably lead the Treasure Valley to falling into something known as non-attainment. ... Once this happens, the EPA is required to force the offending community to make a plan to fix the problem and get back to attainment status. This is a costly venture and can cause significant negative economic impacts. Not good. Increased access to mass transit, which can help be made possible by local option taxes, will take cars off the road resulting in better air quality.

The second reason I believe the Legislature needs to approve local option taxes ASAP is the long-term nature of capital improvement projects like mass transit. In other words, if we want to have a functioning mass transit system in 2015 we need to start planning and funding it right away. If we are content to plan for today's needs, we will always be a decade behind (have you driven on Eagle Road recently?). It is decisions where the payoff is in the distant future that are always the most difficult for elected officials, but that doesn't make it unworthy of our attention. In fact, I would contend it makes equally if not more necessary. Leaders have to have vision and this is a prime example as to why.

Vision really is the key to this whole debate. Are we going to continue to let things slide until worsening air quality degrades our quality of life and derails economic development? Or do we take proactive measures now to start building a transit system that befits one of the nation's fastest-growing metro areas?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Transit makes the top of Page 1

Local option transit funding is on the top of Page 1 of today's Idaho Statesman, with an article explaining how - although local business leaders and government officials are solidly behind the idea - it faces tough sledding since it must first get out of the House Revenue and Tax Committee. Greg Hahn writes:

This committee has thwarted local option taxes in all but a handful of cases over the years. This time around, business leaders and elected officials still haven't convinced the Treasure Valley Republicans on the tax panel.

For many years, public transportation was seen as a Boise issue. It still has the most support from the slate of Democrats who won four of the five legislative districts within Boise city limits.

But now Nampa Mayor Tom Dale and Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas support the local option tax. So do the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and the chambers in Nampa, Meridian and Middleton. Meridian, Eagle and Star have joined the coalition, along with still-rural Middleton, Melba, Parma, Greenleaf and Notus.

The name of this blog notwithstanding, better transit is not just a Boise issue. With better public transit, West Ada and Canyon county residents would gain the freedom to ditch their vehicles and enjoy a ride to work, with time to read, listen to books or music, or even catch a few more Zs on their commute. Older folks who no longer drive would enjoy much better access to shopping, medical facilities, and more. And everyone who wants to do something easy to help ease traffic, counter climate change, and breathe cleaner air would have better opportunities to use the bus, too.

Opponents say people don't currently ride the buses, but that's largely because service is sporadic and inconvenient - and some buses, including the current intercounty service - are packed. With much more frequent and widespread service (including evenings and weekends), ridership will go way up.

is the time to write the members of the House Rev & Tax Committee and ask them to approve local option funding authority for public transit, so citizens have the right to vote on this issue for ourselves. You can click here to send an email to everyone on the committee, or write these uncommitted Treasure Valley lawmakers individually - especially if you live in their districts: Gary Collins (District 12, Nampa); Mike Moyle (District 14, Star); Robert Schaefer (District 12, Nampa). Letters to individual legislators are especially effective if you live in their district - so if you have friends and family in Star or Nampa, let them know their voices are needed now.

Clean air and mobility for everyone ought not be partisan issues, and they shouldn't be decided by an 18-member panel in the Statehouse. Send those emails, or better yet, talk to your legislators now.