Annual Manual 2018: Fare-Minded 

A look at the state of Boise's public transit options

With the goal of moving more people to more places more often, Valley Regional Transit, the region's transportation authority, has merged some of its most sweeping proposed changes to date, into the fast lane.

click to enlarge JASON JACOBSEN
  • Jason Jacobsen

Listening to a steady stream of queries from public transit commuters during a recent open house, Stephen Hunt, VRT's principal planner, had an answer for nearly every concern. One passenger said a bus stop at State and Bogart streets would cut down her 2-mile walk to and from the nearest bus stop. A stop at State and Bogart had been discussed, Hunt said, but a decision on whether to make that happen hasn't been reached just yet.

Some riders asked about the convenience, or lack thereof, of transferring between routes. Others expressed concerns about simply navigating the current VRT system. One attendee raised her arm, flashed her recently purchased bus pass and asked, "Now, what do I do?"

Whether you're a newly minted passenger or you've been riding Boise's buses for years, here are a few things to know:

1. VRT knows better than anyone that there's room for improvement

What the City of Boise pays VRT for public transit and what it gets in return is a decent investment; but even Hunt knows the current public transportation service levels are far from perfect.

"We're behind our peers in terms of transit," Hunt told Boise Weekly. "And we're not talking about spectacular cities of transit Nirvana. We're talking about Reno, Nevada, and Spokane, Washington, which invest four to five times more than what we do on per-capita transportation."

Can service levels simply continue they way they are now? Yes. But Hunt made it clear that "no one is saying what we have now is super-fancy-awesome."

2. Changes could come as early as fall 2018

The proposed ValleyRide changes would adjust and/or combine existing routes to make better use of time and distance at peak hours (weekday mornings and late afternoons), especially on the ever-congested State Street. For example, fewer stops could mean buses arrive 15 minutes earlier at peak times. These and other changes shouldn't cost VRT anything extra to implement, but transportation officials are continuing to collect feedback. Once changes are finalized, they will be taken to the VRT Board for approval. If the yeas have it, the routes could be updated as early as fall 2018.

3. Valley Regional Transit depends on public input

Boiseans have regularly clamored for a reliable, consistent public transportation system. A 2017 public survey confirmed that investment in public transportation was favored over widening roads by a nearly 2-1 margin. Hunt said it's critical for citizens to provide feedback and show they're willing to invest in an improved system, especially if political support is low.

According to Hunt, getting buses that go out to Micron or continue to run on main thoroughfares at night or on weekends is never impossible. When people ask "Why can't we have those things?" the answer is yes, you can, but there is a caveat.

"It costs money," said Hunt. "There's nothing unique about Boise keeping us from having better systems if people are willing to invest in them. All the questions we have about growth and how we're going to preserve the communities we care about have a relationship with how we get around. There are always other solutions than widening a road."

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