The best bus ever

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another opportunity for input

The Idaho Transportation Department is surveying Idahoans about what sort of transportation we use to get to work, school, shopping, dining, or entertainment. The survey coordinator says: "For this initial phase of the project, we are gathering information from Providers of public transportation and mobility services, from Human Service Agencies, and from current and potential Users of any form of transportation other than a single-occupant automobile or pick-up truck. Users include virtually every citizen of the State of Idaho. Based on who you are and what organization you may represent, you may qualify to answer more than one of three different surveys."

Click here to take one or more of the surveys. The ITD wants to hear from us before October 6.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bus stop perks: your ideas needed

I recently joined Valley Regional Transit's Regional Coordination Council, a committee that helps VRT make the most of SAFETEA-LU funding from the federal government and advises VRT on other projects. I was asked to join the RCC as an advocate for transit consumers.

Valley Ride is nearly done installing its fixed bus stops across Ada and Canyon counties, and there is some money available to do improvements at those stops. These might include benches, curb cuts and pads, shelters, and bike racks.

Do you know of any stops that especially need amenities like these? If you have ideas for Valley Ride, you can either put them in the comments below or email them to Mark Carnopis, VRT community relations manager, at mcarnopis at valleyregionaltransit dot org.

Also of note: Valley Ride is taking steps to get rid of the existing benches along its routes that are NOT at the fixed bus stop locations. There's long been confusion among riders who felt a bench automatically signified a bus stop. VRT does hope to have benches at most stops in the future.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Valley hails start of fixed-stop era

About three dozen people gathered on The Grove in downtown Boise on Tuesday to mark the start of fixed-stop bus service in the Treasure Valley. Although some signs remain to be installed, area leaders and transit officials Tuesday hailed the fixed stops as a sign that Valley Ride, the area's bus system, is getting ready for bigger and better improvements to come.

Mayor Dave Bieter pointed to reports of overflowing buses as evidence that the area's appetite for transit is growing. Before and after the noon event, Bieter and BSU history professor Todd Shallat led people on free bus tours tracing the same route that the proposed downtown circulator streetcar would take. "It's a fluid process and there's a lot of legwork to do," he said, yet the streetcar revival is generating "more buzz and excitement than any other project" on the city's docket.

Several leaders from outlying towns rode buses to the event. Mayor John Evans of Garden City cited the benefits of regional cooperation, noting that when Garden City tried to run its own bus system years ago, one driver calling in sick meant 100 percent of the staff was missing. He added that there were 17 people on the bus he rode to downtown Boise mid-morning.

There was only one empty seat on the bus that Meridian councilmen Charlie Rountree and David Zaremba and state Senator Shirley McKague took to Boise. Zaremba described how, en route, they met a young couple with a baby in a stroller and a man with a bike using the bus, too. Zaremba expressed support for a local-option tax to enact the Treasure Valley in Transit plan to bring far better, more frequent service to the area, as well as better intra-city service to Meridian, the largest city in Idaho without its own bus service.

Afterward, I asked McKague whether she, too, would support local option authority. "Oh, people are taxed too much already," she said. I explained that a local-option tax would only go into effect if two-thirds of the voters wanted it on a vote held on a major election date. She was non-committal but thanked me for the information. If you live in District 20, perhaps you'd like to contact McKague to let her know that you appreciate her support of Vallley Ride and that you, too, would like to have the opportunity to decide for yourself whether we can invest in better local transit.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Boise bus stop bash set 9/9

A celebration of Boise's new fixed-stop bus system and a showcase of the proposed Downtown Boise Streetcar Initiative are planned for midday Tuesday, September 9, on the Grove in downtown Boise.

Valley Ride reports that more than 725 bus stop signs are now in place throughout Ada County, signifying that the day has come when bus riders need to use those marked stops to catch a ride, rather than flagging a bus down willy-nilly. But most bus riders seem happy with the switch, since it should make the buses run more efficiently (and since stops are rarely more than a few blocks apart). Hey, if it'll end the maddening experience of people asking for stops every block on State Street, I'm all for it.

The Bus Stops Here event set for noon Tuesday on the Grove will include plenty of speechifying by area dignitaries. There will also be some live music and informative displays, plus the chance to hop a specially designated bus for tours of the proposed streetcar route anytime between 10:45 and 11:45 a.m. and again from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. with Mayor Dave Bieter and Boise State history prof Todd Shallat narrating the sights.

“We really encourage people who live, shop or work downtown to hop on board and check out the tours,” says Kelli Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit (VRT). “It’ll provide people a glimpse of what it would be like to be able to hop on a streetcar, and ride to the other side of downtown to run an errand, meet up with friends, conduct a business meeting or whatever.”

“The streetcar will be the first portion of what we hope will be a larger transit system to serve the entire Treasure Valley,” Mayor Bieter said. “In addition to being a great way to get around downtown, the streetcar will also provide a real economic boost for the underserved areas of downtown.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Better transit = fewer road, bridge $$$ woes

Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Transportation Board held a hearing in Boise last week to talk about the sorry state of our roads and bridges. They made a very good case for the need for additional revenues, and the incredible complexity of solving a funding gap that seems to be growing by the day. (We all learned, for example, that liquid asphalt rose in price from $175 to $1,000 per ton between last December and this July.) But state officials still seem to be resisting the idea that better transit must be a major part of any plan to relieve pressure on Idaho roads and bridges.

I didn't make it to the morning portion of the meeting, though Sharon Fisher of New West did, and she recounts it here. Apparently John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, advocated for a proposal called Fight Gridlock Now that includes transit as part of the solution. And I was only able to stay for about an hour of the late-afternoon hearing, at which point no public testimony had yet been taken.

Idaho has not raised its fuel tax since 1996, and vehicle registration fees have been flat since 1997. It's probably past time to raise both, but the state ought to consider curbing registration increases for people who drive fuel-efficient vehicles (who are already saving at the pump) and/or who hold their mileage below certain levels. Higher registration fees and fuel taxes would also give people additional incentives to explore transit, telecommuting, carpooling, and other options that will lessen the wear and tear on our roads, bridges, and lungs. And because fewer miles driven also means lower fuel tax collections, the state must also consider tolls on some roads and bridges.

Of course, all of this may fall flat in Idaho's rabidly anti-tax legislature, but fee increases - coupled with conservation incentives - are the only way we'll be able to fund safe roads and bridges in our state. This fall, candidates need to be asked how they'd fund road and bridge upkeep *and* how they'll make transit part of the solution.