The best bus ever

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

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.