City Government

GUARDIAN Solves Bus Woes

Using the KISS (keep it simple, Stupid) philosophy, the GUARDIAN offers up the immediate solution to our transit woes…IF we can find buses that don’t burst into flames. This one has potential.

The plan offered by our chief transportation planner is simplicity it self… a “surface subway” using existing resources–buses.

We feel public transit needs to be dependable and frequent to get riders. Trains, light rail, trolleys, etc. have a major drawback–they are limited to riding the rails and they cost more than the entire budget of God.

Buses can use existing streets and with existing technology they can make traffic signals go green (like the fire trucks do). The GUARDIAN plan calls for buses to pass by the “stations about every 20 minutes.

Rather than wind around neighborhoods in ill fated attempts at being all things to all people, the GUARDIAN LINES will intersect for transfer purposes and get the average rider pretty close to their destination. Multiple stops along the routes would be offered with the transfers at intersecting points.

We don’t claim to have a perfect solution, but with 3 buses on each of the streets identified in our route map we will have the ability to move a lot of people effectively. It will use 30 buses.

The GUARDIAN has offered up the basic system. The rest of you can chomp on it, but we are seeking suggestions to get people to our “stations” which will be at each intersection on the map as well as at each end of the line. Think in terms of STATIONS and straight line routes. We can already see a potential Federal Way route in the future.

It would be impractical to build any kind of rail system that could even come close to our plan. Forget about the trains and get on board with a simple system within the area of our map. There will be costs for “stations,” and some street modifications, but there is no need for a rail system in our foreseeable future.

The mall, downtown, and other locations can come up with shuttles that pick up and drop passengers at the “stations.” Meanwhile “Park N Ride” lots as well as express buses from other communities will connect to the core system.

The GUARDIAN staff transit Guru explains that traditional planners have complicated formulas using census figures, acres, square miles, miles per hour, to come up with justification for transit systems. It boils down to DENSITY and THAT is why all the officials are working so hard at cramming us together like sardines–so they can justify TRAINS.

Here are some density comparisions per square mile:
NYC is about 26,000 per square mile; LA (city) 7,900; Pittsburgh, PA 6,000; Philadelphia 11,000; Chicago 13,000; Portland, OR 3,900; Seattle 6,000; and Boise 2,900. (2000 Census Tables)

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Wow, Dave, what a coincidence !! My husband and I were discussing the lack of a transit system just yesterday and we came up with an almost exact system as you.

    I would love to have the ability to leave my car close to home and be able to travel. In not so many years I will probably have to, as I’m not getting any younger.

    EDITOR NOTE–not to mention you can’t get down Eagle Road!

  2. Your call for help worked! You now have a GUARDIAN transit Guru. I applaud this article as POSITIVE for a page that always seems so negative. We need more solutions instead of so much criticism.

    I have always been confused when looking at the current bus routes. A “Main St.” approach is simple and very obivious. People are usually traveling to businesses that are on those busy streets. Now we still have to convince people to use those buses instead of their SOV’s. (Single Occupant Vehicles for you non-Hipsters.)

  3. A refinement of this idea is the busway. We could convert all the UPRR railways into two-lane roadways for use only by emergency vehicles and busses. All the RR signals and crossing arms would stay in place. When a bus or emergency vehicle went by, the arms would drop down and the bus or emergency vehicle would get right-of-way. Also, the busses and emergency vehicles could enter and leave the busway at these crossings.

    This would combine the point-to-point convenience of road vehicles with the priority of rail vehicles. Anything a train can do, a bus can do faster, more cheaply and with greater flexibility.

    Really, rail technology is an artifact of the 19th century. The only reason people developed rail in the first place was because the first vehicles that could convert matter into motion weighed dozens of tons and there were no roads for them. Only rails allowed such heavy vehicles to actually go anywhere.

    Now we have internal combustion engines and electric motors and rubber wheels and roads. We really haven’t needed rail for some 50 years, but so much was invested in it from 1850 to 1950 that we keep using it.

  4. Sounds good in theory. So what are the chances of getting any of our bureaucrats to accept anything that sounds like it might work?

    Oh, never mind — we all already now the answer to that one!

    Still … if they would use small buses and run them frequently, instead of large, often nearly empty ones, so rarely that they’re pretty much useless to many people, it might work.

    Besides, the smaller ones might not burn as long.

  5. Dave,

    I think this is a good start, and I have cross-posted this at the Boise Bus Blog. A few thoughts:

    20-minute intervals all day would boost ridership. This, along with extending service hours until 10 or 11 at night, seven days a week, are in my mind the most critical factors in getting more people on the buses.

    However, I think there would have to be a few more stops along the major corridors than simply at the major intersections. For example, would the folks who currently catch a bus at Targee and Columbus, say, be willing to walk two more blocks to Vista and Targee? I think so. But an extra six or eight blocks to Vista and Overland?

    We have to remember that the people who already rely on the buses – older folks, visually impaired, people with disabilities – often have trouble getting around. Their needs, frankly, must remain paramount.

    As for light rail, I agree that buses ought to be the main workhorses of our transit system, especially for the next 10 to 15 years. But in your list of population densities, you left out Salt Lake City, which has 1,666 people per square mile. And of course, light rail has proven to be a huge hit down there.

    Light rail would be more for moving folks between the Treasure Valley’s cities, not within thew city limits.

    EDITOR NOTE–Stops would indeed be more frequent. TRANSFERS would be at the major intersections. Sorry, we forgot to mention that.
    We thik the Salt Lake rail got a big boost from Olympic grants as well?

  6. True, the Olympics provided an impetus for light rail in Salt Lake, but it has expanded several times since then.

  7. Wonk –

    The railways are in the wrong place – they should at least follow the freeway and connector to be even somewhat effective. Besides they do not go anywhere near the “ultra high density” downtown areas that the ctiy council and mayor want to force everyone to occupy and would cost a BILLION dollars in taxes to build out.

    To build a railway and then have to tranfer everyone from the railway to another mode just to get downtown is a horrible plan and any urban transit planner will tell you that.

    A simple and frequent bus system – on a simple east/west and north south grid is a much better solution.

    The railway ROW (which is only 40′ feet wide in some places – should be kept and set aside for walking and biking from east to west just like the greenbelt – that alone would remove cars from getting to the mall and other areas.

    PS – thank heaven the local option tax move failed or we would all be facing huge tax increases to fund some of these mass “ive” transit projects that make little or no sense.

  8. Brilliant G-Man! This idea has legs and will be examined. The advantage that SLC has is (as you said) they benefited from large grants. But more importantly, they live in a North-South corridor that naturally lends itself to rail. We have experienced out growth in an omni-directional fashion that is not best served by rail.

  9. Grumpy Old Guy
    Mar 23, 2007, 2:15 pm

    One of the reasons for my past lack of bus passengering has been the schedule. On days I worked the daily schedule wasn’t convenient to my schedule and on weekends there were not enough buses running late enough or often enough to make the attractive to me.

    I don’t know how common my work schedule was but it involved some late evenings, some weekends, some part-day (week-day) shifts and the buses just didn’t accommodate such a schedule at all well.

    Something as frequent as every 20 to 30 minutes would certainly make bus riding much more attractive. And, long trips on the bus make a lot of energy conserving sense to me, too. Now how about personal shoppers, gift wrappers, and car-washes located at the park-and-ride lots?

  10. Planner, I’m not suggesting the busway replace the existing bus system, but merely augment it. The train corridors sometimes run parallel to the freeway and arterials and sometimes across them, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, the rail routes no longer go downtown or north of the river much, which is where the highest densities are.

  11. gee you mean like a real city???

    what a concept!


  12. Even those of us who live out in the boonies like this idea. My wife has wished for a long time there was a way to get from the Eagle area to Towne Square Mall without having to drive yourself. This plan would require a ride down State Street, a switch to a southbound bus at Cole Road, and hopping off as the bus passes the mall. One switch on the way back too, it would appear. Obviously, way too simple since everyone REALLY wants to go downtown. Right?

  13. I understand the concern with spending money on a rail system. I think it will come as car and bus transit routes become increasingly clogged. I don’t understand why a rail car cannot be developed so small busses or vans can drive on say in Caldwell, ride the rail to the mall or depot, drive off make a loop at at various stops.
    It would then pick up people and drive back to the “Peoples” Depot, drive onto a car and ride back to where it originated. People would ride in the vans while on the rails.

  14. I think you have a good starting point….as a self-proclaimed transit guru, here are some thoughts:

    Essentially you call for a back to basics, put the buses on the most heavily traveled roads in a concerntrated form for more frequent service. Here are some suggestions to take it to the next level:
    1) When VRT privatized the Canyon county service, signifcant savings were realized and multiple companies competed for the contract. The Boise service also needs to be privatized and the current Union operators can organize a bid for the service, like many other public service unions have done. Public officials have a duty to be good stewards of public funds, and too many public servants feel performing services in-house is the most effecient and ignore any data that points otherwise. (Some services should be in-house, but driving a bus is not that strategic)

    2) Realize people seek ultra-convienence. Most studies indicate people who have the option to use or not use public transit will walk a maximum of half of mile to or from a bus stop. To get mass acceptance and use of a transit system there needs to many routes that serve the major destinations, not just the major streets. Routes to Boise need to connect to BSU, St. Lukes, WGI, Albertsons, Micron and Downtown, regardless of what streets are major.

    3) Too many dollars are wasted in our transit system with pie in sky feasability studies, preservation corridors, operational reviews, etc. All these studies by professional transit consultants always surmise the same result, invest about a billion dollars into a cadillac transit system that the demographics of the treasure valley will never support in 1-15 years. Talk to us when we are a million.

    4) Re-consider the effeciventess of contracted management of the operations. When VRT accepted a bid to manage the operations of the service, the manageemnt staff at VRT did not reduce, management redirected the magement capacity to more pie in the sky studies, lobbying, and other fruitless efforts. The whole point of the thrid-party manegement was to levergae national experts in dealing with a failry unreasonable and ineffecient union. Reduce the scope of the contract with the consultant for negotiation of Union contracts, and put the responsibility on the Union operators to determine schedules and cover missed shifts. Use some of the savings for the Union to send their mechanics to training on how to maintain the busses so they don’t catch fire.

  15. If we want to decrease the total number of vehicles on all the streets, roads and highways, I think we have to take into account the number of vehicles at certain intersections and other locations at certain times. Between ACHD and ITD, those 2 entities should have the number of vehicles at certain times at all the major locations and intersections.

    I like the idea of buses being able to “make traffic signals go green (like the fire trucks do)”.

    Don’t forget the entire length of Warms Springs Avenue, all the way out to SH-21, which could take SH-21 to Federal Way back into downtown.

    Maybe start with vans or small buses on some routes.

  16. Probably one of the most constructive and intelligent things that I have ever seen on this site. Good job Dave!

  17. Guardian, thanks for giving us an alternative view of how a real transit system might work. It’s a nice break from all that light rail dribble we hear from our local transit planners and politicians.

    Now if all those Chamber folks who thought it was such a great idea for us to tax ourselves, but not pay much of the tax themselves, would step up to the plate with some big bucks to support local transit, that would be really great.

    Or maybe they could set up their own bus system (like the INL buses in eastern Idaho) to get their employees to and from work. Why can’t private employers set up their own privately owned bus system to get their folks to and from work instead of relying on the taxpayers to do it for them?

    Wonk – Great Idea! Would we be thinking articulated buses (sorry Gordon those are the big honking buses), suburban type buses, or regular buses (or a mix) on that busway?

    Planner – Seems the local transit planners (and some local politicians) think that having people transfer from rail to another mode is a great idea.

    The 2003 Rail Corridor Evaluation Study calls for spending about $ 130 million to upgrade the current tracks for commuter rail service. After arriving in Boise people would then transfer to buses to get to their final destination. (See

    Julie – You’re correct that the population density of the CITY of Salt Lake City is about 1,600. However, the light rail system serves the Salt Lake VALLEY not just the CITY of Salt Lake City.

    Because of that I’d suggest it’s more appropriate to look at the urbanized area density. Salt Lake is about 3,800. Boise is about 2,500. If you add the Nampa urbanized area to the Boise one, the local numbers get even smaller (and the gap larger when compared to SLC). That’s a big difference when it comes to transit. And Treasure Valley transit planners don’t see much change in density even 20 years down the track.

    As to SLC light rail, take a look at some widely available numbers. First leg between SLC and Sandy (1999), 15 miles. Cost $ 22 million per mile. The University (Olympic) extension opened in 2001 at a cost of $ 53 million per mile for 2.3 miles. The Medical Center extension (an extension of the University line) opened in 2003 at a cost of nearly $ 60 million per mile for a 1.5 mile line. If it hadn’t been for the Olympics (and the resulting grants) the University extension (and the Medical Center) extension probably won’t have been built. The proposed Mid-Jordan extension is just starting its environmental impact study.

    Yes, SLC light rail does haul about 30,000 people a day in a fairly narrow corridor. That’s good ridership for an area the size of SLC. However, UTA’s own comparison numbers against 10 other LRT operations show their LRT service ridership ranked fourth from the bottom – just ahead of Cleveland, Denver and San Jose – in the passengers per hour catagory. Tri-Met LRT in Portland has the highest ridership per hour according to the UTA comparison.

    Comparing Boise to SLC is like comparing apples to oranges. We don’t have (and won’t have) the population density to support a light rail system. We don’t have the abundance of excess railroad tracks (and railroad maintenance facilities) that SLC has. And we don’t have a narrow transportation corridor like SLC. Or a professional sports team.

    JJ – Good thoughts, nice comments.

    Actually the Canyon County operation was being operated by Treasure Valley Transit (a non-profit group) before VRT put the contract out to bid. TVT lost the bid but continued to operate the system (according to their website) for six months after the new firm was selected. Makes one wonder if there was some bid award irregularities. Why didn’t the contract go to the second low bidder if the low bidder couldn’t take over for six months?

    The Boise operation was a publicly owned, privately operated, system for a long time. Boise City decided to take over management, with an immediate 10% plus increase in costs, sometime in the 1990s if I recall correctly. I agree with you that the Boise operation should be privatized. In fact, the Federal Transit Administration requires maximum use of privatized services whenever possible. Might be interesting to see VRT prove that they are meeting that requirement.

    And yes, from various VRT documents (including a consultant’s report) it appears VRT has both major management and human resource issues. Union and non – union. Seems there’s a revolving door at lower management levels and relations with the union are “strained” to say the least (I’m being very polite). Ridership continues to decrease, costs continue to rise (due in part to all those consultants), and labor relations are dismal. Sounds like it’s time for a management shake up at the top of the food chain.

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