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.
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.