The best bus ever

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

HJR4 barely passes Senate committee

Calling it a "poison pill" that would harm regional efforts to fund better public transit, state Sen. Curtis McKenzie voted against HJR4 in today's Senate State Affairs vote. Kudos to the Nampa Republican for standing up for his district. The measure did pass the committee 5-4, but it faces an uncertain future before the full Senate.

Another Republican had some truth serum in his OJ this morning too, even though he voted the wrong way. From the Idaho Statesman:

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, supported the measure but said he thought a provision in the proposal to limit local option measures to November elections is aimed at assuring no such measure passes.

"That's the reason behind it, I have no doubt," he said.
(More here.)

HJR4 now goes to the full Senate, the last chance to stop it before it goes on the November ballot (where powerful GOP and big-business interests would ensure its passage with a simple majority vote). Now's the time to call or email your senator to urge a NO vote. Calls and emails to senators representing west Ada County or Canyon County are especially important.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Transit tidbits: HJR4 in limbo?

Here's a quick roundup of some recent transit-related news:

The Idaho Statesman had an excellent editorial in Sunday's paper on the perils of amending the constitution for local-option votes, as HJR4 would do. "Lawmakers say they are trying to break the deadlock over local taxing authority, and give Idaho voters a chance to settle the issue in November. Don't buy it. This doesn't really help local governments and local voters pay for their needs. To make matters worse, lawmakers have cynically co-opted the state Constitution in the name of political expediency." Read it all here.

Writing at the Idaho Conservation League's "Wild Idaho" blog, Sara Cohn added the only argument that the Statesman editorial strangely failed to mention. "One obvious problem with this amendment is that it doesn’t provide an avenue by which regional areas can address transportation problems. Traffic congestion and air pollution do not stop at city or county limits," she wrote.

Meanwhile, over at Eye on Boise, there were some hopeful signs today that the Senate may not be quite so gung-ho to pass what amounts to a poison-pill amendment for effective regional transit solutions.

I missed it while traveling last week, but state Rep. Scott Bedke penned a Statesman op-ed that telegraphed why he, Mike Moyle, Butch Otter, and others are so intent on sealing local option into the constitution: Ada-Canyon bashing. "It is extremely disappointing that a few local Treasure Valley interests have determined that meeting their particular transit needs are more important than addressing the broader needs of communities in 42 other counties throughout Idaho," he wrote. That's a laugh, since the legislature flat out refused to consider the Moving Idaho Forward proposal backed by a coalition from all over Idaho.

Finally, tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 26), Todd Litman of Victoria, B.C., will give a presentation called "Work Smarter, Not Harder, to Improve Transportation." It's set for 6 to 7:30 p.m.. in the North Star Room of the Doubletree Hotel-Riverside, 2900 Chinden Blvd. If you can, call ahead to 855-2558 (ext. 222) and let 'em know you are coming.

Friday, March 21, 2008

House passes local option amendment

On a 51-19 vote, the Idaho House today passed HJR4, the constitutional amendment designed to make it much harder for Idahoans to solve transit issues on a regional basis. The Senate will vote next week. It needs two-thirds to pass, then it would go on to need just a simple majority from November voters to become a very, very bad law.

Here's hoping the Senate can kill the bill before it goes that far. Given even a slight shift in the legislature next year, a more reasonable and regionally oriented local option bill could prevail next winter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bike Nazi --> Bus Nazi

I've been grounded.

Due to a temporary medical condition, my doctor has ordered me off the bicycle for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. (Any longer, and I would've gotten a second opinion from Dr. Kervorkian!) I won't go into graphic detail... let's just say it involves the part of me that comes in contact with the bike saddle. (Ouch!)

So, for the first time in several years, I'm letting ValleyRide attend to my transportation needs.

I bought a 31-day "employee pass" - it cost me $32.

The "regular" pass costs $36, so I saved 4 bucks. Big wup. (I'll probably save a few bucks over paying $1-per-ride. Hopefully I won't have to decide how to continue, a month from now.)

Let me digress. My place of employment is surrounded by parking lots. If an employee chooses to drive to work alone every day, the company will subsidize $40 of the $60/month parking lot expense. But they'll only offer a $4 incentive to ride the bus for that same month. What's wrong with this picture? IMO, they should gladly pay the entire bus pass fee, for anybody who's willing to use it, and get a car off the road!

I ride the #4 Roosevelt bus. I walk .3 miles from my house to the bus stop. The bus comes by at 7:50. By 8, or shortly thereafter, I'm getting off in downtown Boise, for a 2-block walk to the office.

In the evening, I catch the bus at 5:15, and am walking the .3 miles home by 5:30. (Yesterday afternoon, as I rode in that dry, warm bus, looking out at a gloomy, rainy day, I've got to admit it was nice to be on the bus, instead of on my bike!)

Yep - the bus is pretty sweet. It enables me to retain my contempt for all those single-occupant-vehicle drivers out there. And it will let me preserve my track record - the last time I drove a car to work was September 1997. That will not change. (Even if my 2.5 year perfect bicycling record has been spoiled.)

But I can't help but wonder... why are 30-plus of the 36 seats on the bus empty? On my three rides so far, there have been 2-4 passengers. That, my friends, is a problem! And unfortunately, it's also a very valid argument for opponents of public transportation.

Could they improve ridership with better routes? (I can't imagine a better timetable - you'd think a bus arriving downtown at 8am should be packed!)

Or... are people so lazy and/or inflexible that they won't look at alternatives until gas is $4/gallon? Or $5, or $6? (Time will tell. You know it's just a matter of time. If people will pay $3, they'll likely pay $4.)

One criticism... as in many places, Boise's city buses have big windows, that should afford good views in every direction. But so far, the buses I've ridden have windows that are so "scummed up" that they don't afford much of a view. I don't know if it's dirt on the outside, or gunk on the inside, or scratches, or tint-film, or what. But how much more pleasant the ride would be, if somebody could Windex those windows from time to time!

Drive on!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rev & Tax strikes again

Transit and air quality are regional issues, but tell that to the House Rev & Tax Committee. Repeating yesterday's party-line vote, the panel has sent the ill-advised local option constitutional amendment to the full House, where it will require a two-thirds majority to pass.

It's time to call your representatives and senator and urge them to vote NO on the amendment, which will do nothing but create more delays and replace regional cooperation with every-county-for-itself dramedys of error. The Moving Idaho Forward plan is still on the table, and it deserves a hearing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's up to you, Canyon County

State Rep. Mike Moyle introduced his constitutional amendment on local taxation authority to the House Rev & Tax Committee today, and it sailed through the print hearing on a party-line vote, with all 13 Republicans for it and all five Democrats opposed.

Chairman Dennis Lake actually asked whether they needed to have a public hearing on the matter before putting it to a final vote.

Well, they do and they will. It's at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, March 14 in room 240 of the temporary Capitol in the old Ada County Courthouse.

If you live in Canyon County and want flexible, regional control over our transit future, please plan to be there. The Moyle amendment - if it passes the House and Senate by two-thirds and receives voter approval in November - would throttle local communities' ability to work together to pass local option legislation. For more background, see coverage of this week's amendment action at Eye on Boise, the Idaho Statesman, Paleomedia, and state Rep. Nicole LeFavour's Notes From the Floor.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crunch time against the amendment

State Rep. Mike Moyle is making good on his threat to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to authorize counties or cities to levy a sales and use tax. His bill goes before the House Rev & Tax Committee at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 240 of the temporary capitol (former Ada County Courthouse).

So now's the time. If you live outside Boise - and especially if you live in the western Treasure Valley - contact your legislators (especially Reps. Gary Collins and Robert Schaefer of Nampa) to ask them to vote no on the local option constitutional amendment. Because the bill may get through committee, it's also important for everyone INCLUDING Boiseans to contact our own legislators and ask them to vote NO if the bill moves forward. Tell legislators you want them to support the Moving Idaho Forward bill instead.

Moving Idaho Forward is a better deal for Idaho. This legislation, crafted by a bipartisan coalition of statewide leaders, would allow local communities - urban and rural - the flexibility to decide whether to raise up to a penny of sales tax for better roads and/or public transit.

Like the constitutional amendment, it would require a two-thirds majority of voters to approve a local option tax. But unlike the amendment, it would allow more flexibility since neighboring counties could work together on road and transit funding and because a local option vote could be held in May or November, not just November.

Moyle's bill fails to recognize that the Treasure Valley already has a regional transit system, with its most popular routes crossing the county line. That's a big reason why the Valley Regional Transit board voted yesterday to oppose the amendment.

Think about it: If the amendment passes, November 2009 is the earliest we could have a local-option vote - and if it failed, we'd have to wait another full year before trying again. Urge your legislators to vote no on the amendment and pass Moving Idaho Forward instead. With our roads increasingly unsafe and our air quality nearing federal noncompliance, we can't afford to wait.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rush hour rally Tuesday in Nampa

Update: Here's coverage of the rally from the Idaho Press-Tribune.

The Idaho State Legislature is bending over backward to find ways to delay action on better public transit. (Their latest stalling tactic is trying to amend the Idaho Constitution to allow local option votes.)

Are you fed up? Then join us Tuesday afternoon (March 11) from 4:30 to 6 p.m. as we hold a Rush Hour Rally near the I-84 Garrity/Idaho Center exit in Nampa.

We'll gather on the sidewalks along Garrity Boulvevard near the new Nampa Gateway Center, where traffic is always backed up at rush hour. Bring signs that read something like:

No More Delay: We Need Solutions
End the Gridlock - Move Idaho Forward
Constitutional Amendment = More Delay
Rep. Schaefer: Act NOW for public transit
Rep. Collins: Act NOW for public transit
Smog & Delay Make Us Gag!

Nampa residents: Whether or not you can make this rally, please call or e-mail Reps. Gary Collins and Robert Schaefer (who sit on the House Rev & Tax Committee) to tell them that you OPPOSE the idea of changing Idaho's constitution. It only will mean more delays and more gridlock. Urge them to move Idaho forward. Caldwell residents can deliver the same message to Sen. John McGee, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Writing local option into the constitution

Boise-area leaders dislike the idea, but it looks like the House majority wants to amend the constitution to allow local-option funding for transit - and they now have Gov. Butch Otter's backing.

An amendment, which may come up within days, would require two-thirds approval in the House and the Senate and then passage by a simple majority of voters.

But citizens would have to go back to the polls - in November only - to vote again for local option, and in a multicounty area like the Treasure Valley, it would require two-thirds approval in each county. From the Idaho Statesman:

Requiring a county-by-county vote in regional elections could make passage too difficult, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said.

"Transit systems are almost always regional systems, and you ought to take it on regionally," he said.

The latest regional vote in the Treasure Valley was last May, when voters in Ada and Canyon counties agreed to tax themselves to support a planned community college. Seventy-one percent of Ada County voters approved the tax, but only 62 percent of Canyon County voters did. Voter turnout was light.

Many Treasure Valley lawmakers would prefer to put local-option authority in statute and not require two-thirds majorities in each county. A statute would require only the vote of a simple majority of legislators.

Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bus stops! What a concept!

One factor that's long stifled Treasure Valley transit use is the lack of bus stops. Oh, there are a few shelters here and there - but basically, Valley Regional Transit has been operating on a flag stop system by which you just hail the bus at any corner. It's pretty small time and definitely confusing to would-be riders.

But the flag-stop system is going away as of next Monday in Canyon County. Valley Regional Transit previewed the system last week in Caldwell. The Canyon County routes remain the same, but riders will now be asked to catch the bus at one of 136 bus stops: 81 in Nampa and 55 in Caldwell. The stops all have signs. Most have benches and some will have shelters as well.

According to a press release from Valley Regional Transit, the new bus stop locations were chosen according to safety, spacing between stops, locations where most people wanted to board the bus, and reducing impacts on traffic flow. “It took us months to examine all the details and factors to select the new bus stop locations,” executive director Kelli Fairless said. “Our staff put a lot of thought into it.”

At an event marking the transition, officials including Nampa Mayor Tom Dale, Caldwell Mayor Garrett Nancolas, and state Sen. John McGee (R-Caldwell) urged the Idaho Legislature to give local government authority to raise money for improved public transit systems through a local option sales tax. According to the VRT release, "Draft legislation in the Idaho Legislature has not made much progress in recent weeks, despite strong support among the business community, Canyon County elected officials, and pro-transit groups." Dale urged the legislature to give communities local control to see if voters would OK a small tax for improved transit service.

Valley Regional Transit says it expects to bring fixed bus stops to Ada County by midsummer. But since they've been talking about it for more than a year now, we'll just wait and see.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Statesman: Initiative may be best route to transit

The Idaho Statesman editorialized today that because the balky Idaho Legislature doesn't want to address local option taxing authority, citizens may need to take on the job ourselves.

Resistant and obstinate pretty much sums up the Legislature's sorry track record on local-option taxes. If the Legislature doesn't pass local-option legislation in the remaining weeks of the 2008 session, it is time for supporters to take their case to the people. They have a good case to make.

A voter-approved local sales tax can help communities address their looming transportation needs, in their own way. A Treasure Valley approach - one that combines roadwork with enhanced bus service and securing rights-of-way for commuter rail - might not work elsewhere. That's the inherent advantage of local-option taxes. This attribute seems lost on legislators who espouse support for local control, but balk at allowing local taxing authority

The paper doesn't like the idea of amending the state Constitution to allow local option, as some Republicans are pushing.

An amendment is a tough proposition, requiring two-thirds support both in the House and the Senate and voter approval in November.

An amendment might placate conservatives who would prefer to lock local-option language into the Constitution, but an amendment is clearly unnecessary in a state that already allows local taxing authority in limited circumstances.

If an amendment proves too narrow or unworkable, it would be cumbersome or impossible to repair.

But the newspaper admitted that there are problems with the initiative approach, too. Click here to read the whole editorial.