The best bus ever

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

Monday, May 28, 2007

Looking for ways to use less gas?

Joe Kolman, the Idaho Statesman's "Environment at Home" columnist, has some good ideas in today's paper for people who insist they have no choice in their driving habits. Taking the case of a New Jersey woman who is spending $300 a month on gas, he writes:

She could trade in her SUV (22 mpg) for a fuel-efficient car.

She could carpool or take public transit, even just once a week.

She could move closer to work. (She commutes an absurd 110 miles a day.)

Kolman writes, "It's fairly easy to convince ourselves that we don't have choices. But our ability to survive depends on changing to adapt to new situations. People have been doing it for a long time; do we want to be the ones who finally just give up because we can't figure out how to drive less?"

Read it all here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gas prices hit record high

The United States made history today by wiping out the previous inflation-adjusted average gas price. The average price for regular unleaded is now $3.21 a gallon. That's about 16 cents more a gallon than this time last year, and we probably won't see gas for less than $3 a gallon until fall.

One month from today is Dump the Pump Day. How timely. Read more here.

Getting to the grocery store

Via a post at Daily Kos, I learned about how U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and several others from the House Hunger Caucus recently took part in a food stamp challenge. On his blog, Ryan described the challenges of trying to eat on a mere $21 a week.

What does this have to do with public transportation? Take it from Ryan:

As several people have mentioned it the comments, a problem faced many across the country, especially the inner-city poor, are the lack of low-cost food stores in an easily accessible area. These people can’t afford to drive to a Wal-Mart in the suburbs for the bargains; they aren’t members of the warehouse club stores. If you are constrained to where you can walk or take public transportation, then you can only shop at the places in your neighborhood, and you are forced to pay whatever they charge. That is EXACTLY what I was doing. I had the option to head out to Costco or Shoppers and decided instead to replicate as close as possible the REAL experience of someone who can't afford a car and is constrained by public transportation.

Here in Boise, we are blessed to be compact enough that most of our lower-income folks live within walking distance or a bus ride of a supermarket. However, as I've said many times before, bus riders must time their trips carefully so they can catch one of the buses that run only once an hour in most of the city, and not at all in the evenings or on Sundays. As for Costco, it's a reasonable hike from the nearest bus stop at Overland and Cole Road, but the quantities sold there make it impractical for shopping with anything less than a vehicle, anyway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Air quality info

With warm temperatures and lots of pollen, Boise's airshed has been a little murky these past few days. In fact, our air quality was only rated "moderate" today, and our particles count was as high as Los Angeles and higher than Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Click here to see current air quality conditions in Boise and here to compare our conditions with cities nationwide. On days with less-than-good air quality, we can all help by taking alternative modes of transportation, combining trips if we must drive, parking the lawnmower, and abiding by burn bans.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gas prices up - ridership, too

Valley Ride spokesman Mark Carnopis is quoted in the Statesman today as saying bus ridership on the intercounty lines is up 35.6 percent since fiscal year 2004 and 9.3 percent for the first six months of FY 2007. "We're looking at adding some larger buses on the inter-county route, because some of those buses are already over capacity," he said.

At a $2 to $4 roundtrip cost (cheaper with a monthly pass), riding the bus between Nampa or Caldwell and Boise just makes sense - if commuters can tweak their schedules to match that of the bus. Hint to to Valley Ride: If the buses are too crowded, don't just think about getting bigger buses. Do it. Nothing will turn off reluctant and casual riders more than not being able to find a seat.

Through the eyes of others

One rewarding - sometimes sobering - aspect of riding the bus is getting a glimpse of what it's like to live as a person with a handicap. Of course, people with disabilities are much more reliant on public transportation than the general public. Imagine trying to coordinate your daily routine to match a bus system that runs less than 12 hours a day, and only once an hour midday on many routes ... one on which some transfers are all but impossible - unless you want to wait another hour. It's not pretty.

Yesterday, a man with a wheelchair got off the Vista bus with me at the northwest corner of Overland. I'd never before realized this, but there is no curb cut on the Vista side of the northeast corner at that intersection, though there are at the other three.

In other words, had the man wanted to transfer to the westbound Overland bus at the northeast corner, he would have had to cross first to the southwest corner, then to the southeast, then to the northeast. Of course, he probably would miss the Overland bus at that point anyway, since the schedule has it arriving at the intersection about a minute before the Vista bus.

How silly is it that a major intersection like Vista-Overland doesn't have curb cuts on each corner? Drivers don't notice things like this, and able-bodied pedestrians don't either. But people who use wheelchairs or walkers or guide dogs are all too aware. Yesterday, for a moment, I was, too.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Will a one-day gas boycott help?

Once again, there's an email going around encouraging drivers to boycott gas stations on May 15. The idea is that if millions of Americans refuse to buy fuel on one day, prices will come down.

The problem is, people who buy gas every few days or even every week will simply fill up on May 14, or wait until May 16. The oil companies won't notice a thing.

If American motorists really wanted to do something to affect the situation, we wouldn't simply refuse to buy gas on May 15. We'd refuse to drive on May 15. We'd walk, bike, or take the bus. (Forget carpooling this one day, OK?)

It's one thing to have a bunch of drivers not buying gas on one day.
It'd be another entirely if those drivers simply refused to drive.

Or as petroleum analyst Marc Routt told the Detroit Free Press: “The only thing that does work, in terms of lower prices, is a change of lifestyle and habit.”

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

No free rides to the public this May

It's May, and that means it's time once again for May in Motion, Valley Regional Transit's annual attempt to get more of us to ride the bus, walk, bike, or carpool. Last year, Boise buses were free to ride all month long. A year or two before that (maybe both), May in Motion meant free rides on Fridays. But the free rides are gone this year, replaced by an effort to help employers earn free bus passes for their employees.

May in Motion events include an alternative transportation fair from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Wednesday, May 2, on 8th Street between Idaho and Bannock. A Bike and Walk to Work Day celebration and breakfast is planned at the same location from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on May 18.

Final April stats

I rode the bus 28 times in April, a new monthly high for me. My trips were mostly on the #3 Vista, as usual, but I took the #14 Hyde Park for the first time, and I shepherded my daughter and four of her friends on the Roosevelt bus one afternoon. It was the first city bus ride for all but two of them. They had a blast; they weren't even fazed by the fact we had to catch the Roosevelt because the Vista had been delayed by a flat tire!

I had ten car-free days in April, yet I still wound up driving 351 miles, 100 more than in March. But with a total of fewer than 1,200 miles logged so far in 2007, I felt safe asking my insurance agent for the low-mile discount available to those who drive less than 7,500 miles a year. It's not much of a discount, but combined with my savings in fuel, parking, and vehicle wear-and-tear, it adds up.

Just today, I filled up the gas tank for the first time since April 3. I paid $2.95 a gallon at the Boise Avenue Maverik, one of the last stations in town with fuel at less than $3 a gallon. I wonder what it'll cost hereabouts by Memorial Day?