If you don’t already, what would it take to get you to start riding the bus to work, to shopping areas, to entertainment events and other places?
For me it was the temporary betrayal of my main commuter car. Though I could have ridden my bike or looked into carpooling, it was one of those days when my bike wardrobe wasn’t going to work with the appropriate meeting attire and schedule of the day.
The bus was the ticket so I climbed aboard the 14 Hyde Park to Downtown Boise and the 5 Emerald to get as close as I could to the Statesman — at a total round-trip cost (day rates, no use of passes) of $4 and time investment of 35 minutes (including about a mile of healthy walking). Repair bills for the car would have paid my bus fare to work for a month of Sundays. So why don’t I — or why don’t you — ride the bus more?
I know we love our cars and our independence and living by our own schedules. So, until gridlock or gas prices or a lot of other factors converge and convince us, what is it going to take to win us over to the public transportation mindset that is the norm in places such as Denver, Sacramento and Salt Lake City? They are all growing, bustling state capitals, which like Boise and the Treasure Valley are expecting continued growth spurts in the decades to come?
Lately I have been leafing through transportation studies produced by the city of Boise and COMPASS (Community Planning Association) of Southwest Idaho. Growth and change are coming down the pike sooner than you think. Unless we have an overnight conversion to the precepts of public transportation and place our faith in it — we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in our single-occupancy cars, stalled along the clogged highways and byways of our commutes.
The shortcomings of our present bus system are not lost on area planners and people such as Kelli Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit. She said we get what we pay for: a bus system that does not run frequently enough or for nearly enough hours, or to nearly enough destinations as it should to make riding it more practical.
Though the folks at ValleyRide are making improvements — from digital tools to find the right bus to the new Transit Center downtown that will make it easier to catch our connections — we are never going to solve future transportation challenges until we get serious about funding them.
The roughly $15 million in funding would have to double, Fairless says, to bring the bus system to a level of service that would lure more of us out of our cars. Outside of the fares and other revenue, and contributions from user cities in the Treasure Valley, there is no dedicated funding — something those systems in Denver, Sacramento and Salt Lake City have achieved over time.
I agree with Fairless that the best way to get to where we need to go in public transportation is for the Legislature to allow for a local option tax (half a cent, or a full cent) to raise the dedicated funds to enhance the system.
Though the road to a mature and workable public transportation system for the Treasure Valley might someday include light-rail transit or some other fixed-track options — that road must first pass through a network of logical and successful bus routes.
If you look at the evolution of most big-city transportation systems, they started with buses — and still include them in the spoke-and-wheel infrastructure that allows them to deliver people to their destinations.
Today, the Valley is operating with essentially the same bus system that served it in the 1990s — even though the places of growth and employment are more widely dispersed in many new directions.
Before we aspire to ride anything else into the future, we had better learn to support and patronize the interim means: the bus.