The best bus ever

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Valley Ride-union spat bodes ill for service

Boise Weekly's Nathaniel Hoffman has this update on the Valley Ride-bus union dispute over a one-mile stretch of the No. 42 Overland route. The mile in question - between Maple Grove and Five Mile - serves the Social Security office and used to be part of a route handed by union drivers, but it's now subcontracted to a private, non-union company based in Nampa. A federal arbitrator sided with the union drivers, but Valley Ride seems to be balking, despite comments at two public hearings which heavily favored keeping the route open.

Update, July 7: Valley Ride has decided to delay a decision on this matter until August.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dump the Pump (and a route?)

Today is the Third Annual National Dump the Pump Day, an effort to get people out of our cars and onto our bikes, feet, or public transit. Something tells me it might get a better reception this year than in years past when gas was a mere $2.50 a gallon.

It's also "Whack a Pump Day" at the Stinker station at 23rd and Main here in Boise, where from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today only (Thursday, June 19), people can take out their frustrations over high gas prices by wailing a baseball bat at a pump (or playing the Whack a Pump game online). Hmmm, OK, but those of us who already drive minimally just don't have that sort of rage! That Stinker Station also will offer a 10-cent discount on gas, as well as E85 fuel for $3.49 a gallon.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Statesman has a story today about how a dispute between Valley Regional Transit and the bus drivers' union may eliminate service on a stretch of the intercounty Route 42 on Overland Road near Five Mile. The larger issue seems to be whether Boise bus service - operated by unionized drivers - is suffering at the expense of beefed-up inter-county routes that Valley Ride subcontracts to a private, non-unionized company. There's a public hearing on the matter at 4 p.m. today at Boise City Hall. I don't think I can make it, so I'd welcome a firsthand report in the comments from anyone who can. Perhaps this dispute will help shine a light on the need for better funding sources for our sad little local transit system.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ridership way up

Valley Ride sent out a press release today on Dump the Pump Day, which is Thursday. More on that tomorrow. The real news gem - buried midway through the release - is this: During the first eight months (October 2007 through May 2008) of its current fiscal year, Valley Ride has seen:

• A 78 percent increase in riders on the Intercounty bus line from Nampa/Caldwell to Boise, compared to the same period last year.
• A 7.3 percent jump in Boise fixed-line ridership, compared to last year. When gas prices vaulted to more than $3.50 in April and kept climbing, Boise routes have seen an even higher jump in ridership. For example, the ParkCenter Route No. 1 has seen a 41 percent increase in ridership in April 2008, compared to April last year.
• A 4 percent bump in Nampa/Caldwell fixed-line ridership, compared to last year.

That's all great news. And there's more here:

Intercounty ridership hit an all-time high in April 2008 with 11,338 riders, compared to 5,904 in April 2007, a 92 percent hike in ridership on the most congested and heavily used transportation corridor in southwest Idaho. In the Boise area, 92,873 people rode the bus in April, compared to 77,785 in April 2007.

“It’s great to see more people using ValleyRide services across the valley, and we know that increased fuel prices has a lot to do with it,” said Kelli Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit. “If people haven’t ridden the bus for a while, they should know that we have tweaked our route schedules to increase trip speed and make it more convenient to get to where they need to go.”

Bus travel will get even more convenient when Valley Ride moves to its fixed-stop system later this summer. Now if only we could eke out a few more hours of service in the evenings and more frequent service midday, there's no telling how many people might start riding the bus.

Denver gets on board with transit

I have been in Denver, where they are building light rail routes all over the place, for most of the past week. I didn't take advantage of the rail bonanza, but I did ride a city bus from my hinterlands hotel to downtown Denver (for $1.75 each way, as opposed to about $20 in a taxi). Once there, I took several hops on the shuttles that run every five minutes up and down the city's 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. You can read more about the shuttle and see some of the sights along or near its route at this website.

If you plan a Denver visit, be sure to hook up with Denver History Tours. I took what was technically a "Golddust and Traildust" tour on Sunday, but since there were only four of us along for the walk, our guide Shawn - who is both a historian and urban planner - seemed only too happy to oblige my many requests for info on Denver's evolving infill, urban redevelopment, and transit scenes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Statesman: Transit's time has come

The Idaho Statesman has the first of a four-part editorial series on gas prices in Idaho. Today's installment is headlined "Gas prices boost need for better Valley transit." A snip:

ValleyRide is a skeletal system now. Most of its buses operate once an hour - twice an hour during rush hours - Monday through Friday, with service ending by 7 p.m. A few Boise routes run Saturdays with even shorter hours and fewer runs. That's it.

If you work past 6 p.m. or so, or want to take an evening bus to a Downtown Boise restaurant, you're out of luck. If you're not willing or able to wait a half hour or more until the next bus comes, you're out of luck. If you don't live near one of the area's few bus lines, you're out of luck.

Critics look at the mostly empty buses that run on ValleyRide's city rides and ask: Why should we pour even more public money into it?

Because if we build it right, riders will come. The experiences of Salt Lake City and Denver prove that. The surge in ValleyRide's intercounty service proves the local need.

Read it all here. It'll be interesting to see whether the 2009 legislature heeds this call. Gas prices were on the rise during last winter's session, but not like they are now. Will $4 a gallon, or maybe $5, be the point at which our lawmakers finally, beleatedly acknowledge reality and give us a shot at building more robust bus choices?

Bear this in mind, too, when you cast your votes in November: Which state legislature candidates have pledged to work for better transit, and which stand in the way of that goal?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Let's stimulate transit

Transit played a central role in Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's State of the City speech on Tuesday. Bieter both reiterated plans for a steel-rail streetcar system in and near the downtown core and support for local option authority. The Idaho Statesman has coverage here and an editorial here.

As for Bieter's local-option hopes, we're all thinking, "Yeah, good luck with that." But then I heard this commentary on the public radio show Marketplace today, in which Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary, suggested that - although public transit's moment has arrived - our local transit systems are woefully inadequate; they're facing the same soaring fuel costs that have sent people scurrying onto transit; and they're also facing funding shortfalls due to dwindling sales tax revenues. So why not include transit expansion and modernization funds in the next national stimulus package?

It's a great idea, and it would mesh well with other stimulus ideas that would help create green jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Transit will never pay for itself. It's time to give it the federal support it deserves.