The best bus ever

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fill-up free February?

My final stats for January: 25 bus trips on five different routes (Park Center, Broadway, Vista, Warm Springs, Overland). Next month, I want to take at least two routes I haven't been on before.

I filled my Chevy Cavalier's not-quite-empty gas tank the other day for the first time in three weeks. Now I'm challenging myself to make it to March without refueling again. It seems doable since this is a short month and I'll be out of town without my car for about five days.

Maybe people will use transit more if, like me, they find ways to make a game out of it. (That, or if gas climbs back to $3 a gallon.) What's the longest time you've ever gone between fill-ups?

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.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Idaho ranks #47 in urban mass transit

CFED, formerly the Corporation for Enterprise Development, has released its 2007 Development Report Card for the states. Idaho ranks favorably in many areas, including energy costs, patents issued, and charitable giving. But we are near the bottom of the barrel in other areas including - no surprise here - urban mass transit, for which we rank a dismal #47.

During 2004, the last year measured, Idaho's mass transit systems traveled 1.27 miles per every Idahoan for the entire year. Contrast that with Washington state, which ranked 3rd in the nation with 20.43 miles per capita, and Utah, which ranked 12th with 12.25. New York was tops with 35.81 miles traveled per capita. See the rest of the rankings here.

CFED includes mass transit in its listing of infrastructure resources, noting "The extent of mass transit availability is an important measure of workforce mobility and overall transportation capacity."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fear of dependence ... take 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote how I drove to an evening event in Garden City because I wasn't sure I'd find a way home if I took the bus. I said, "I can't begin to count the times I'd have taken a bus to an evening event but wound up driving because the buses stop at dinnertime. If Valley Ride added evening hours, my own personal ridership would double, triple, even quadruple. But in the meantime, maybe I can take more leaps of faith about one-way bus trips."

Well, I'm already getting better. Monday night, my daughter and I took the #29 Overland to BSU for the Al Gore speech. Especially given Gore's topic, I felt compelled not to drive. Of course, that meant we'd either be walking home (about a 20-minute trek, not bad, but not fun in the dark on Boise's badly lit sidewalks) or catching a ride. It turns out we were able to do the latter - scrunching into a compact car with four other people (friends of ours) who had carpooled from the west Bench!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why ride to the Y?

Under the current only-once-an-hour midday bus schedules for many Valley Ride routes, it isn't easy to make a quick trip downtown. Since the first of the year, I've been riding the Vista #3 a few times a week for my regular workouts at the Downtown Y. My routine goes something like this:

Leave the house at 12:20 for my five-minute walk to the bus (just to be safe; it doesn't come until 12:30).

Get downtown at 12:35ish and walk to the Y - another 5 to 7 minutes from the bus stop.

Get changed, do my workout, get dressed again. Total one hour or so.

This leaves me with a half-hour or so to kill until the 2:15 bus leaves. I've usually spent it reading. The bottom line is, this schedule takes me twice as long as it would to drive downtown and back (which takes me 15 minutes round trip, tops). But I really haven't minded. I've extended my workout a little, I get in some extra walking, and I'm getting some extra reading done, too. Plus I am doing my part to reduce those nasty CO2 emissions ...

Today, I had a noon meeting at the Statehouse, so I took the 11:30 bus. Yes, I arrived pretty early! After the hourlong meeting, I high-tailed it to the Y, worked out (cutting it a little short this time), and made it to the 2:15 bus.

Granted, using the bus makes very little sense at all to people who have desk jobs and little flexibility in their schedules. That's why it'd be great to see Valley Ride eventually have service every half hour at a minimum, all day, on all of their routes.

Tell me about times when you've taken the bus, even though it would be faster to drive.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bus riders on Page 1

The Idaho Statesman's Page 1 coverage of Al Gore's visit includes a sidebar about the Chavez family of Boise, which has reduced its carbon footprint from 64,989 to 41,541 pounds of CO2 each year, for a per capita footprint of 13,847. (The U.S. average was 44,000 in 2003.) Natalie and Todd Chavez are shown on their daily commute on the #10 Hill Road/Maple Grove bus, which takes them from their northwest Boise home to their downtown jobs, helping them keep a net 7,437 pounds of CO2 out of the Boise airshed each year - just by driving less and taking the bus.

Although the Statesman story makes it clear that plenty of skeptics still doubt whether the Earth is really warming, people like the Chavezes aren't waiting for definitive proof. They're taking action now: riding the bus, driving less, taking fewer vacation flights, and offsetting a quarter of their electrical use via a $5 a month contribution to Idaho Power's Green Power program.

All these steps create significant carbon savings. One area in which the savings doesn't seem to be worth their sacrifice is heating. Since 2001, they've turned their gas heat down from 70 to 60 during the day and 64 at night, but that resulted in a reduction of just 1,452 pounds of CO2. I know every little bit helps, but in my opinion (as someone who still shivers with the thermostat at 70 and a sweater on), that's way too little benefit to be that cold!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hooray for the Madigan kids!

Today's Idaho Statesman carried an editorial about how Treasure Valley residents must begin changing our behaviors to help curb the region's worsening air quality. The paper gave props to two local children for just that sort of smart action:

Conner Madigan, 13, and Aaron Madigan, 9, are stellar examples of making small sacrifices for the greater good of the community's air quality.

Because they attend a charter school, there is no school bus transportation from their home, which is about three miles. Their mom asked them to think creatively about getting to school every day. Was there another mode of transportation beside their family vehicle?

The boys decided it was an easy bike ride on nice days and they researched public transportation and found they could take the bus along with commuters. They ride the bus into Downtown and transfer to a second bus to get to school, but they are saving gas money as well as our air quality.

Way to go, Conner and Aaron! Here's the full editorial. Unfortunately, in a separate article about Saturday's salute to the BSU Broncos, no one thought to suggest that fans take the bus to avoid parking hassles on campus and downtown.

Monday, January 15, 2007

All together now: At least we're not LA!

On my way to look up something else, I stumbled on the Bottleneck Blog at the Los Angeles Times. It doesn't look to be a blog so much as the response to a recent story about LA's ever-worsening traffic. At last count, close to 250 people have posted comments, vents, and possible solutions to the dilemma. Obviously, the Treasure Valley's traffic situation will never come close to being as bad as LA's - but I-84 is starting to look a little bit like this during rush hours most weekdays. And remember: Los Angeles has multiple major freeways. We have ... one.

SLC loves its light rail

From The Arizona Republic, a story on Salt Lake City's embrace of light rail:

When light rail opened here seven years ago, people lined up around the block. From the first day, the trains carried more people than were forecast for 2025.

Seats are still scarce as the boxlike trains thread through downtown. On a bitter cold day last month, they filled up with office workers heading north and construction workers and retail clerks going south. Lines of trains waited for Utah Jazz fans. Families flocked back from a downtown mall with armfuls of gifts.

Residents of the Salt Lake area have embraced light rail to a degree that few imagined. ... The area has voted for five light-rail extensions, including to places that once shunned rail. One was a suburban county where 88 percent of voters backed President Bush in 2004. The first time they were asked to vote on rail, 60 percent backed it.

So far, Salt Lake has invested $2 billion in local funds as part of a plan to build 50 miles of light rail and 120 miles of commuter rail.

Over the next 75 years, suburbs are planning to put residents of big luxury homes into trains, while uranium plants and Superfund sites are becoming stations and station communities.

This is a slightly longer version of the story that ran in the Idaho Statesman today. Read it all here. One of its lessons: It really helps if some big players get behind the idea. (In SLC's case, these included the LDS Church and auto dealer/Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller.) If Boise State or Micron did the same thing here - teaming with Valley Ride and encouraging and subsidizing employees to take transit - who knows what would be possible?

Light rail seems to be a ways down the wish list for Treasure Valley transportation advocates, but it's certainly good to see it succeeding in another area that's "conservative, tax averse and fond of the open vistas and open roads."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fear of dependence

I had an evening event at the Doubletree Inn in Garden City earlier this week. It started between 5:30 and 6, and I considered taking one of the last Chinden (#8) or Fairview (#7) buses to get there.

But then how would I get home? My husband, with a rare night off, had plans to take our daughter out to dinner and then come home and relax. I didn't want to ask him to make another trip. I knew I'd know a lot of people at the dinner. Surely I could get a ride home from someone, but I feared being an imposition. I wound up driving.

As it turned out, I sat at the banquet with Vince and Kara, who live less than a mile from me. We talked, among other things, about transit. Vince mentioned how he used to take the bus to work at Micron, and how he loved the chance to read during his commute. (Now, however, he works in Nampa, and his schedule doesn't mesh with the measly intercounty service offered.) We all laughed over how, sure, we could have carpooled that evening - or I could have hitched a ride home with them, no problem.

Boise needs evening transit. I can't begin to count the times I'd have taken a bus to an evening event but wound up driving because the buses stop at dinnertime. If Valley Ride added evening hours, my own personal ridership would double, triple, even quadruple. But in the meantime, maybe I can take more leaps of faith about one-way bus trips.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Otter: No mention of transit

Gov. Butch Otter made no mention of local option taxing authority in his State of the State address today - a somewhat surprising fact considering the issue is one of the most critical to the Treasure Valley. But with many local officials from both parties lining up behind the idea, here's hoping it will get a fair hearing and that the Legislature and Otter will give Idahoans the right to decide on the issue.

Update 1/10/07: The Democratic caucus, in its repsonse to Otter's address, had this to say Tuesday ..."This legislature also must recognize the fact that much of the state is becoming more urban. As such, cities and counties need to have the tools that allows them to plan smartly for the growth that is coming. Local option taxes that would pay for public transit could prevent the kind of Los Angeles sprawl that ruined the natural beauty of their area. Let’s not let Idaho become another California."

Read all of Otter's address here and all of the Democratic response here. I don't think local option taxing authority is a partisan issue so much as a rural-urban issue (especially given the gravity of air quality on the decision, as yossarian_22 suggests in the comment below), and, I submit, a libertarian-communitarian issue.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Transit future on TV Sunday

The Coalition for Regional Public Transportation will be the focus of the Sunday, January 7, edition of "Eye on Idaho" on KBCI (Channel 2) in Boise. The show airs at 7:30 a.m. If you see it, feel free to post comments and thoughts from the discussion here.

With the Idaho Legislature opening Monday, this also would be a good time to write letters to the Idaho Statesman and the Idaho Press-Tribune in support of local option taxing authority so Treasure Valley residents (and citizens of other growing areas in Idaho) can have a chance to vote for better public transit.

Saturday bus blues

Saturday is an especially inconvenient day for bus riders in Boise, since the routes only run once each hour. (Almost as inconvenient as Sunday, when they don't run at all.) My plan today was to catch the #3 Vista at Overland at 9:05. I was within sight of the stop by 9 and waited there until 9:20. No bus. So either it was more than five minutes early or more than 20 minutes late. My guess is the latter; I saw a #17 Warm Springs about six minutes early yesterday afternoon.

While I waited, a heavy snow started to fall. It was beautiful. So it wasn't an entirely wasted walk to the bus stop.

What are your experiences with the on-time performances of most Valley Ride routes?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Al Gore speech moved to Taco Bell Arena

If you are reading this blog, you may have hoped to catch former Vice President Al Gore when he speaks at Boise State on January 22 - and you may have been disappointed to hear the tickets disappeared in 10 minutes.

BSU announced today that due to high demand, Gore's keynote talk for "Global Warming: Beyond the Inconvenient Truth” conference has moved to the Taco Bell Arena and plenty of tickets will be available. There's more info here.

Update 1/10/07: The additional public tickets for Gore's speech at Taco Bell Arena sold out within five hours when they became available Tuesday. BSU has held back 2,000 tickets for students returning to campus next week.

A full bus!

Yesterday afternoon, I experienced something Boiseans rarely see: a totally full, standing-room-only bus, the 3:15 departure from downtown on the Vista route. The bus was packed mostly with Boise High School students, who ride free with their student IDs - an arrangement made to help cut down on students driving to school.

I'd be interested to know how many teens take the bus instead of driving or catching a ride from their parents. Judging from yesterday, it's a lot, but that may be because Boise High is very convenient to bus service. I'm not sure the same can be said for Borah, for example.

Of course, it's great that students have the option to learn early that the bus can be a great alternative form of transportation. Particularly for younger teens who don't yet have their licenses, the bus is a ticket to freedom. For older students, it's a chance to make a stand for a healthier environment and new ways of thinking in our car/SUV-dependent culture.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Voters like transit funding

... at least in other states. A recent post on Rob's Idaho Perspective notes that in the November elections ...

Across the nation, $40 billion in new public transit funding was approved. Voters in 13 states approved 21 of the 33 ballot measures, including 7 statewide initiatives. This provides me hope for the future of the Treasure Valley of Idaho. As I have mentioned before in this blog, Idaho is one of only 4 states which provide no state funding for transit and restricts local funding of transit - Hawaii, Alaska, and Mississippi are the others. The coalition is working with the Idaho legislature to allow local option funding. This isn't an initiative to raise taxes, its an initiative to allow us to ask the citizens if they want to pay for public transit. Today in Idaho, we can't even do that.

As commenter Yossarian_22 mentions in the New Year's resolutions thread below, the Idaho Legislature will decide in its upcoming session whether to allow Idaho voters to make local public transit funding decisions. Now is the time to contact your legislators and ask their support for allowing Idaho voters to decide whether they want enhanced transit.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's resolutions for Valley Ride

If you could suggest transit-related New Year's resolutions for Valley Ride and Boise leaders, what would they be?

Tops on my list: Evening service to and from downtown Boise, including BSU. Even if we could only get buses to run until 10 p.m. or so (maybe midnight on the weekends), it'd be a huge improvement and help cut down on the traffic that now snakes around 9th and Front streets whenever there's any sort of event at Qwest Arena.

We've all heard a lot about a downtown circulator trolley, too. It's already been offered for special events (for BSU games, during the holidays). Can 2007 be the year it becomes fully operational?

I'd also love to see special concert-night transportation to and from the Idaho Center in Nampa. Imagine catching a ride from, say, downtown, the BSU campus, or Towne Square Mall and not having to deal with pre- or post-concert traffic hassles. And now that our Broncos have hit the big time, how about park-and-ride game-day service next fall from convenient spots around the valley?

Finally, how about Sunday morning bus service so folks could ride to and from church?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Reasons to park your rig in 2007

Happy new year! I took these photos on my annual New Year's Day walk and - as you can see - it's wintertime in Boise and that means inversions. (These photos are from about 11 a.m.; a few hours before that, you wouldn't have seen any blue sky.) The gray cloud blanketing the Treasure Valley many days in winter and summer seems reason enough to try and reduce our reliance on personal transportation and use other options - public transit, walking, or biking - whenever it's feasible.