City Government

Hop Onboard GUARDIAN Transit Plans

There have been endless meetings, endless surveys, and endless chatter about “mass transit” in the valley. Now the cities are proposing a local option tax (probably a sales tax) to fund both highways and public transit.

The legislature needs to exercise plenty of caution on this one. The GUARDIAN posted a plan for an “above ground subway” system with a grid system of routes. GUARDIAN SOLVES BUS WOES .
We got absolutely no comment or interest from anyone in government, despite 17 mostly supportive comments.

Team Dave and others are consumed with their desire for a train. We think good roads with buses running on them will do a lot to ease traffic congestion. Before they get too carried away with mass transit plans, we offer this challenge: GIVE FREE BUS PASSES TO ALL CITY EMPLOYEES. There are several HUNDRED who drive taxpayer-owned vehicles to and from work daily. Let’s see you put half of them on the bus.

The personal car policy was to be evaluated a year ago, but no results have been announced. We simply fail to believe there are more than 200 employees who are so important to public safety they need a taxpayer funded personal car.

After a detective caused a traffic accident responding well after the fact to an officer involved shooting the chief officially put strict limits on the “code three” use of lights and sirens without authorization from commanders or dispatch.

Team Dave needs to set an example and cut down on use of city vehicles before they can try to implement a tax for mass transit that may never be used. An alternative to the bus routes we previously suggested would be commuter vans like those operated by ACHD.

The GUARDIAN “van plan” would put 100 brightly colored (hot PINK?) vans on the city streets for an initial investment of $3 million to be operated by anyone with a good driving record. Let them go to and from work, to the mall, whatever. Basic rules are they must be city residents and they MUST pick up anyone wishing to ride. Driver need not deviate more than a few blocks from his planned route. We had such a policy in Vietnam and it worked like a dream–any American GI could flag down any military vehicle for a ride regardless of rank of either driver or rider.

Why not allow people to ride in Boise City police cars, parks department, building department and public works vehicles etc.? Most city vehicles have a single occupant. The point is this: If you REALLY want to cut down on traffic and pollution try some “outside the box” ideas before strapping on eternal debt and taxes.

We could support the local option tax if it included versions of our proposals. We can NOT support light rail or trains which are limited to tracks and demand many many cars and locomotives to provide any frequency of service. In short, we don’t trust the judgement of local officials and doubt the legislature will either.

Even if the legislature passes a local option tax, we citizens have to approve whatever OPTION local government proposes. Since it will no doubt go toward long term debt, any proposal must get a 2/3 majority of the voters to approve it.

City workers can indeed ride the bus for free. We have asked for any record or estimate of how many actually take advantage of the perk. Our point as one commenter said is to stimulate thoughts on the subject and get the city to use the system they want citizens to use.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Keep harping Guardian! Someone has to! It is my understanding that city employees already get to ride the bus for free. I believe all they have to do is show their ID tag.
    It is becoming quite clear that Bieter wants a choo-choo and that is the only thing he is willing to work on.
    It befuddles me how someone that can negotiate the path from his home to city hall, fails to see that a working bus system is absolutely mandatory BEFORE any type of light rail system can be considered. I have listened for months to the mayor and certain city council types speak ad nauseum about a rail system. The only question they won’t address is ” what do we do with the riders once we get them here? Make them walk or take a cab? They just don’t want to hear it!
    And let us not forget the main hurdle they face.
    A local option tax for roads and transit will face ENORMOUS hurdles at the polls even if the legislature approves it. Given the way this mayor has operated so far, I can’t help but believe that when the citizens say no to a super majority, and their side can only get 50-55%, they will declare it a victory and fund the bloody thing from some obscure financial “rat hole” Bottom line, this mayor and most of the council shouldn’t be trusted as far as we could pitch them!

  2. MR. Gaurdian;

    Shall I save you a seat at the Treasure Valley High Capacity Transit Study Open House?

    Public Open House

    Jan. 17, 2008

    10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

    213 N. 9th Street

    Boise, ID 83702

    EDITOR NOTE–I’ll pass on three minutes of fame. Do please share this posting with all who will listen or care.

  3. Guardian — You have made some very good suggestions about tranportation options over the years. Some of these have been considered and adopted by transit agencies, some have been considered and adopted by other governmental entities and some have been considered and not adopted. I would suggest that you and all of your contributors continue to make suggestions and observations about options for moving people and goods through the Treasure Valley.

    I would like to offer that no one including Mayor Bieter has seriously suggested a quick conversion of the Valley’s transit from wheeled based buses and vans to any type of fixed rail system. Your continuing to offer that as a straw man is neither productive nor informed. Many, including me, do believe that LONG TERM solutions include some type of rail system moving people through the Treasure Valley. Note that in order to adequately plan for that long term we probably should begin today. Average length of time to fund a fixed rail system in the US from first dedicating money to operations is 13 years. Thirteen years from obtaining a source to actual completion of a first phase. Most knowledgeable people involved in transit options feel with various degrees of certainty that a fixed rail transit system would be of benefit to the Valley in 2020-2025 — a time when we will have a few more people here. If we don’t start planning for that future, including identifying an adequate funding source, you would be the first to criticize our lack of foresight.

    Long term planning is just that…planning for options. It does not necessarily foretell the future, merely suggests options for consideration. Transit options should all be considered in this effort…believing that yours are the only ones that have merit is shortsighted and nonproductive. Be part of the solution, don’t just continue to criticize what others are considering.

    Wheeled buses and vans are definitely in that mix, including new routes, new equipment, new technology and new thinking. I could make fun of your analogy to military types of solutions, but I will refrain and just let the voters decide whether they think we should adapt such a solution.

    Thanks again for all you offer to our community.

  4. Mike Murphy, Bull Moose Tenor
    Jan 14, 2008, 10:40 am

    I hear they’re also proposing a “Transit Mall” Downtown. Tell me; Which Mayoral Candidate was it that proposed just that on the S.W. Corner of 9th & Front? ; )

    So… As all options are considered, please consider this.

    Plans should not only accommodate current and projected demands; But also take into account the very real possibility that a catastrophic event(s) (i.e. Natural Disaster, Embargo, Refinery Attacks, etc…) could make Mass Transit the ONLY option. Overnight.

    I remember the 1973 Oil Embargo. My friend Alex and I made a killing selling Hoffman’ Sodas (Mmm. Black Cherry!) to strangers stuck in the Gas Lines for hours in Brooklyn.

    This as we waved and traded “Good Morning'” with our friends and neighbors who headed, without a care, for the #5 Train.

  5. All the efforts around mass transit is more of a snake oil sales approach to simply get local option taxes. The city has wanted to get sales tax revenue from the state for years…now they want the local option tax ability.

    IF the local option tax bill passes you will see COUNTLESS efforts for COUNTLESS projects and “needs” – not just transit.

    Local option taxation open the doors for local governments to use public relations and marketing to create a PERCEPTION FOR ANYTHING THEY WANT and then go out and try to get tax money for it.

    I am litterally in a large US city of about 5 million – they have a train system – IT DOES NOT PAY FOR ITSELF and the tax payers will be taxed for it now forever. I predict this will happen in Boise.

    Our government leaders are doing more marketing than actual fact finding. It is VERY clear that we could start with a simple bus system from Caldwell or Nampa and prove that even that will not be cost effective.

    The Boise government we have now is all about more taxes and spend more – nothing more. If they get their way those that live in the city will have the highest tax rate in the state – by far.

  6. Mr. Guardian:

    As usual, your viewpoint is well-thought-out. And I’m happy to share some thoughts of my own.

    I remember your “above ground subway” proposal. While I don’t know if it’s the best alternative bus-route plan, I agree that the current “spoke and hub” model is of very limited usefulness, for a very limited number of riders. A grid/matrix of some sort might be a better plan. (Because of my reservations about the spoke/hub model, I’m skeptical about the $78 million “multi-modal transit center” that the Capital City Development Corporation – aka Downtown – seems to be pushing.)

    Regarding light rail:
    – A metro area that can’t fill up buses doesn’t have a need for a choo-choo. Although I’m fully in favor of maintaining the corridor between Boise and points west. Someday a light rail might be viable.
    – A terminus at the Boise Depot is just plain silly, unless the Depot were turned into the “multi modal transit center.” And that seems unlikely due to limited road access, without major changes to roads and traffic patterns in the area.
    – The old-timers will remember when railroad tracks (and the occasional train) used to go through downtown Boise. And in fact, much of that old corridor is still vacant… if you have Google Earth, go to the intersection of Franklin and Hartman and you can follow the corridor diagonally northeast from there. It crossed Orchard near Irving, and went over the river at a trestle that is now a bike/pedestrian bridge.

    Other thoughts:
    – I used to work for the city a number of years back, and indeed all employees could ride the bus for free. I doubt that has changed. Team Dave SHOULD be setting the example. How many city leaders and employees ride the bus?
    – Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which comes first, the GOOD public transit system or the riders? I say it has to be the system; people won’t ride the bus unless it’s quick and convenient. (Or at least not too slow and inconvenient.)
    – It’s unreasonable to expect the transit system to be self-funding. All transit systems are subsidized through tax collection in one form or another. I’d support a 1/2-cent sales tax… IF I had confidence in our local leaders’ ability to spend it for something that will really work. I want to see the plan up-front.

    I’d encourage interested readers to check out Julie’s “Boise Bus Blog” now and then – (Julie is a regular Guardian reader and commenter.)

  7. Allow people to ride in police cars whenever they want to? The liability that would fall on the shoulders of the city for that would be huge! The crime is already rising enough, why turn the cops into taxi cabs???

    EDITOR NOTE–Most people who ride in cop cars don’t have a choice. How is the liability any different for a suspect than a citizen? If on a call no rider.
    How about the liability for riding a bus? The point is to get people to thinking. How many cops ride the bus to work for the day shift duty?

  8. I think the best answer for mass transit is the greenbelt. Live within walking and bicycle distance of your work place. As more people choose to live near where they work, higher density development will provide accomodations.

    If you want the acre and cows, then live with the traffic as well, don’t make me buy you a rail.

  9. The idea of police giving rides to anyone who needs one has not been thought out.

    First: The liability to the city certainly would increase. There’s a reason that ride-a-longs have to sign waivers in case they get hurt. There is liability for transporting an arrested person. But there’s a difference between transporting an arestee directly to jail and trasnporting a random person across town.

    Second: The people being transported to and fro would be seated in the backseat since no officer I can imagine is going to have a total stranger in the front seat right next to their sidearm and shotgun. That creates a few logistical problems. Are we going to have wheelchair and handicap accessible police cars in order to provide equal service to all citizens?

    Third: If an officer is checked out on a “courtesy transport” he is unavailable for calls for service. This means that legitimate calls for help have to hold until he’s done being a taxi cab. The only alternative to having calls for service hold while you have police being taxi drivers (instead of taxi drivers being taxi drivers) is to authorize the police to pick up a “fair” and then kick them out halfway through the transport if a call for service comes out. That would incur other obvious liability problems if the person was kicked out of a police car and then hurt where the police left them.

    Fourth: What if the officer who’s assigned to Columbia Village is requested to drive someone to the mall? Are you going to require him to drive that far out of his patrol area? If he’s required to do that then that leaves the better part of the east side of the city without a policeman assigned because the assigned policeman is now playing taxi driver. Or vice versa: would the officer assigned to the mall be required to transport to Bown Crossing because someone requested it? That leaves one of the busiest areas of the city without proper coverage.

    Some of the same arguments apply to Parks workers. Yes, they frequently have only one occupant. But they are working. Are you going to make the Parks/Rec worker neglect his duties because he’s being a taxi cab?

    Heck, how about if anyone can walk into a fire station and get a ride on the fire truck?

    If you’re truly worried about polution and saving fuel I think the more logical question would be: Why do you hardly ever see police cars with two policemen inside since at least two officers are sent to almost every call nowdays?

    You may have noticed I’ve used the words “taxi cab” a few times. That’s because we already have cars being driven by a single occupant that are available to transport people around town. We call them taxi cabs! We don’t expect the taxi cab drivers to be policemen…..

  10. Padowan–I think the G-man is just trying to get people thinking. There is really nothing wrong about giving an officer the latitude to give someone a lift if they are “going my way.”

    With all your liability fears you sound like an ambulance chasing attorney or a cop who doesn’t want to be part of the solution. How about you come up with some talking points yourself–our would you rather pay for Team Dave’s train?

  11. Not afraid of the liability (in fact my post was at least as much about the logistics of such an undertaking as the liability therein). Just trying to correct the misconception that there isn’t any extra liability. I’m all for thinking of logical solutions for problems. I just don’t think that police and parks/rec becoming taxi cabs when there are taxi cabs out and available is one of those logical solutions.

    I don’t know that the “G-man” was just trying to get people thinking. This is not the first time he’s made the argument that it’s a good idea for city employees in city vehicles to become taxi cab drivers. I didn’t post the first time becuase the idea was so laughable I figured he must be joking. When he posted it again I took it to be a serious suggestion.

    It could actually be that my feeling is that we don’t need a mass transit system. Therefore, I don’t feel the need to put forth any talking points on which mass trasnit system would be best.

    There are empty (or nearly empty) busses running on all routes and I see empty taxi cabs driving around all the time. I just didn’t see any reason to create more taxi cabs (ie- city vehicles with a specific purpose) when the taxi cabs and busses we do have are not getting used.

  12. AS someone who used to work for ACHD, working on traffic mitigation planning, I can assure you that a light rail in this valley is 15 to 20 years away.

    Generally speaking the population threshold for such a system is at least 1 million. Also, in order for a light rail system to ever work you need to have an advance bus system which will get the rail passengers from the rail stops to their final destination and everyone who lives in this valley knows that the ValleyRide bus system is pathetic at best.

    Please note that Minneapolis only just recently got its first light rail line (the hiawatha line.) The metro population for the minneapolis-st. paul metro area is 3,502,891.

    In addition, a person needs to realize that no mass transit system ever operates consistently in the black and therefore requires tax subsidies, such as a local option tax. As of today, the Idaho constitution does not allow for a local option tax, with the exception of resort towns and there are only three of those, McCall, Sun Valley, and Coeur D’Alene. Last year, the elected people at the statehouse would not even let a bill out of committee to go to vote, which would have, if passed, allowed for local governments, through the public referendums, the ability to impose new local option taxes only if approved by a majority vote of the citizens.

  13. Rod in SE Boise
    Jan 14, 2008, 5:44 pm

    Based on the current ridership level of the current bus system, which is visible through the bus windows, where you can see clear through the busses and out the other side because the busses are empty, it is hard to believe that additional mass transit measures are even being considered. It just defies all logic and common sense.

  14. Tom Ryder, you must have moved here since the mayor election. Welcome!

    The only thing with regard to mass transit that came from the current mayor was the overwhelming and critical need for light rail. He even imported “experts” from his two favorite cities, Salt Lake City and Portland, to tell us how important it was for us to have a choo-choo. Then he traveled to the great city by the Great Salt Lake to “study” what a great system they have.

    In fact, his only reference to buses was a silly little song that he enjoyed singing to his daughter. “The wheels of the bus go round and round!” Get it? Funny Huh?

    And don’t forget the city council. The closest any of them came was “Yep! Our bus system is broke and we need to fix it!”

    Except for that one afternoon at a neighborhood association picnic when two of the ones seeking re-election actually got up and said that transportation was their #1 priority! Some of us started looking for a hole to hide in because we were certain there was a lightening bolt forthcoming! So, I am afraid that our illustrious mayor only has one solution and, sadly, it’s not the one we need.

  15. I was going to comment on the idea of Police Officers essentially being another taxi service, but after reading Padowan’s comments I don’t feel the need to duplicate his argument. By the way, I am a Police Officer and occasionally we do give courtesy transports to people in need or when it expedites a call we’re on. As for the Guardians mass transit ideas, I agree.

  16. What a great perk and income multiplier! Free vehicles with out taxes, titles, insurance, upkeep, fuel, depreciation, or dealer doc fees. I had no idea of the scope of the taxpayer provided vehicle perks. I guess that I am a bit envious too. I think of all the money for insurance gas and vehicle costs that I could have saved with like subsidies over the courses of my careers. Cruises, Safaris and more trips to Europe would have been much more enjoyable expenditures of the money I spent to get to and from work. And all that was with older vehicles and the much less than two dollar per gallon gasoline!

    Without an auditor does anyone really know how many use and abuse this program? Who tracks usage and costs? Are there any established guidelines for vehicle use or are there so few governing rules that abuse is unheard of?

    What would Pinkey do? I propose that Boise closely monitor its significant fleet of taxpayer provided personal vehicles. They could then have an annual employee appreciation and awards banquet at the train depot.
    First blush categories for recognition could be: Longest daily commute. Most average miles traveled weekly, monthly, annually. Highest and lowest maintenance expenditure. Furthest distance traveled on a single business/vacation trip. Furthest cumulative mileage on business/vacation trips. Most fuel consumed and conversely, least fuel consumed during current fiscal year. Most expensive liability settlement due to operator negligence. And a special award, perhaps monetary, for most passengers normally hauled. I’m certain many other categories could be added.

  17. Meridian Mike
    Jan 15, 2008, 7:22 am

    But Guardian, being a Meridianite, I won’t be able to share in your pink van proposal. Nor should I, as it is being funded with $3 million in Boise taxes. Your writing, however, well voices the frustration we all feel by not having transportation choices and by seeing the inability of government to develop seemingly logical solutions.

    Because the polluted air, as well as the workforce commutes in this valley cross political boundaries, I think we need a solution that does the same. I haven’t yet developed the necessary website skills, though, to share my thoughts to the degree needed, nor may I ever, as I’ve been refining the plan for many years now. Basically, though, I think a solution that doesn’t rely on taxes and appeals to even just 15% of commuters that flow through our 6000 vehicle per hour intersections, while not politically feasible, would have sufficient ridership to succeed and make a difference. Conflicting political realities make mass transportation a poor candidate for a government solution. There is no magic to the funding that government brings to transportation, it ultimately comes from the same source that we would need if we organize without government… us.

    EDITOR NOTE–Boise gave away its bus system to the regional VALLEY RIDE–if tht is the name today. It has proven useless. YOU have a city council in Meridian. Perhaps yellow and red stripes would work on your vans?

  18. What would be a useful addition to the public transportation/bus/light rail conversation is an explanation and analysis of the costs of (1) a light rail system and (2) an enhanced, workable, viable bus system.

    I would like to see from either Valley Ride, Bieter’s office or Compass an analysis of how much a bus system would cost that would REALLY work in this two county area. It would involve a vast increase in the number and frequency of busses, a vast increase in routes, a change in routes perhaps from a spoke and wheel where everything ends up in downtown Boise to one where there is connectivity from and to various major points. Juxtaposed with the new information would be the details of what is being spent now, by whom, how many riders there are per route and how big the subsidy per rider is.

    The above information will pale in comparison to what light rail will cost.

    I don’t see how we can have any rational discussion of a local option tax for transit without knowing how much it will cost to develop transit. I know that there will be those sheeple who will go along with any taxing scheme because it’s for “transit” or “the children”, but with the increase in property tax valuations coupled with the decline in home values along with the increase in local government spending, I would hope that the majority of voters will want and need to see hard numbers before falling for another tax increase.

    EDITOR NOTE–We have not heard the results of the COMPASS meeting with VALLEY RIDE today to discuss a merger—read that COMPASS will be the new boss of the any local option tax.

  19. The vans are a very dangerous and ill-thought plan. According to your plan, I (a petite female), can drive any of the vans to work, BUT I have to pick up anyone needing a ride. So for me to use them, I have would have to pick up every drunk or transient or creepy or meth-head that flags me down. Wow, can you say gang rape. Sounds like a great idea. Well, then I guess I could sue the city for millions and get therapy.

    And by the way the city already tried this with bicycles a couple of years ago. They painted a bunch of them bright yellow and had them available downtown for people to use. Guess what? They all were stolen.

    EDITOR NOTE–You should not sign up as a van driver. PLEASE offer a solution or come out against buses, trains, light rail, etc. (you may have to sit next to a creep) If you want more roads and NO transit, just say so! New York has an entire police force of “TRANSIT POLICE” because there are so many muggings on the subway. EVERY proposal has some sort of problem.

  20. EDITOR NOTE–We have not heard the results of the COMPASS meeting with VALLEY RIDE today to discuss a merger—read that COMPASS will be the new boss of the any local option tax.

    Compass in charge – great. That gives one a lot of confidence that any scheme is doomed to failure.

  21. Mike Murphy, Bull Moose Tenor
    Jan 15, 2008, 7:54 pm

    Dear Editor–

    The New York City Subway System has the MTA Police because the system itself has a DAILY population/ridership of 7.2 MILLION (Thats about 35 times the population of Boise), and annual population/ridership of 1.5 BILLION (7,212 times the population of Boise).

    And that’s just the Subways!

    Fact: Per Capita, the New York City Mass Transit System is often safer than Boise-Angeles.

    I am really disappointed that the Guardian would spout such a tired old cliché as “…because there are so many muggings”.

    Oy Vey!

    EDITOR NOTE–You don’t think we can get that many riders? Boise is on more “best places to live” lists than NYC will ever see. Our football team also won the Fiesta Bowl last year. Gotta a problem with that?

  22. Meridian Mike
    Jan 16, 2008, 9:46 am

    Guardian, Re: Your question #17 Neither Meridian city nor Valley Ride engender any confidence when you read the latest lack-of-a-bus-ride story….

    Might they consider a second bus of paying riders? It’s still not the bus I need, but I could offer ValleyRide a three months advance on my fares just to start a route. Unfortunately has no rider outreach and the rest of the rider data base is at ACHD Commuterride. Compare Valley Rides’ effort to that of a real non profit, Channel 4 Public television, that has a large citizen and business membership. So, sadly, get ready to spend another $111 million to add a third interstate lane and bring more Meridian cars to downtown.

  23. Meridian Mike, regardless of whatever transit scheme is put forth, we will still need the third lane on the interstate and realistically they should just do 4 now and save money in the long run. Why? Because even if we exceed all realistic expectations of the ridership of transit and get say 25% ridership, it still leaves us with clogged streets.

    The reality is most people will expect everyone else to take transit. That’s why ridership is so dismal and will always be dismal.

Get the Guardian by email

Enter your email address: