All Aboard! GUARDIAN Transit Line

The GUARDIAN has been making a lot of “casts” trying to hook some big fish as we angle for public transit and highway ideas. All we have seen from the politicos is a mad dash to continue to pollute the water and offer up bottom feeding trash fish.
The ideas we have proffered come from conversations with intelligent caring people experienced in the area of transit, government, media relations, and just good Idaho people.

It is an understatement to say we are disappointed with elected officials. They have demonstrated a profound inability to cope with the mess they have created through growth.
The current bus system is shameful and now they want to toss more money at it and then build trains. To save space and stimulate exchange of ideas here are some points to ponder:

–The ACHD commuter van pool does not operate within the city of Boise. They have about 80 vans in this good system, but they run to Nampa, Emmett, Mt. Home, Eagle etc.
We would urge immediate investment of $3 million to purchase 100 vans to operate within the city. Liberal rules and a mandate to offer rides to anyone needing a ride would move a lot of people.
–Preoccupation with light rail or trains is killing us. Trains can run only on tracks and it would cost billions to build and a lifetime of debt. Instead, for a fraction of the cost we could run 80 passenger articulated buses DIRECTLY to selected final destinations like the Capitol Mall, Micron, BSU, etc.

–A transit terminal in downtown Boise for $72 million is ill advised. Downtown is not the center of the universe. The center of the universe is along Eagle Road at Fairview or I-84.
–Someone is floating a trolley loop plan in downtown Boise which would have spurs east to Broadway, west (probably to the 30th St. dreamland) and to BSU. Little more than a two mile total. For the $72 million price tag of the terminal they could purchase 2,400 vans
and run 100 of them every minute 24 hours a day on that route.

–A free rubber tire trolley paid for at least in part by the Down Town merchants failed miserably.

–The big expense of a bus system is drivers and their benefits. Vans driven by volunteers would be much cheaper. If there are folks who want a vehicle that must stay in the city and are willing to share the ride–let’s make it easy for them to have it.

–Boise gave its bus fleet to Valley Ride under the guise of “regional transit.” We understand there is a “Boise Division” which has a fare structure different than the rest of the system and union drivers with no real mechanism to integrate it.

–The sudden interest in all these schemes is to justify a proposal before the legislature to allow cities to impose “local option” taxes earmarked for highways and transit. If the law is passed, locals still must get permission of the citizens for any of these “legacy” projects.

The GUARDIAN is aware that any public transit system will never pay its way. However, we need plans that will work, can be modified and are not intended to encourage growth. We feel there is a common thread among the politicos to increase the population in order to justify their dreams of a train. It becomes a never ending cycle with no resulting “progress.”.

We say build decent safe highways and fill them with buses. A $500,000 bus can replace 80 cars on the I-84 and 100 vans has the potential of replacing 1,000 cars in the city. Bus routes can also be changed or added at will. Try that with a light rail train!

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. the_watcher
    Jan 17, 2008, 7:25 am

    I respect the Guardian for its dedication to alternate points of view and challenging conventional wisdom. However, with transit issues I think you lose your way.

    You talk about this obsession with light rail. Who is obsessed with light rail? The Mayor talks about it but the fact is the Mayor has very little power to to make light rail happen. He can talk about it…but he is a politician…thats what they do. There are no plans for light rail anywhere. The Guardian has gone the way of the statesman on this issue…making the “light rail” an issue rather than reporting issues. There is no “preoccupation with light rails or trains” except in this forum. But this wouldn’t be a very interesting blog without some drama I suppose. The Mayor brings up trains because they are sexy and I suppose the same goes here.

    Regarding the trolley discussion…that “someone” was a large group of local agencies combined with public input who participated in the Downtown Boise Mobility Study. Examination of a streetcar system was a recommendation in the study. More is on the Valley Ride site I believe.

    Regarding the bus system. It sucks but it’s radically underfunded…ya get what ya pay for.

    Less drama more facts.

  2. The Treasure Valley is, even in a housing slump, one of the top five fastest growing places on the United States. You can try to control growth but you really can’t stop it, especially in a state like Idaho that values property rights above all else. Unless we plan for extensive public transit now then we will be behind the eight ball in the future. This is an area where we need to be proactive not reactive. We need to lay the infrastructure and plan for our future needs now or we will pay much more later. And, this is going to call for a much more complex solution than a bunch of vans. We do need transit stations, especially in Boise; and as the City grows I think an urban comuter train is a good idea. You can say that growth isn’t inevitable if you want, but I think you are wearing blinders. Growth will happen, but we can plan for it and manage it.

  3. For safety’s sake, I just don’t agree with the idea of having volunteers drive vans around offering rides to anyone at any time. I would never want my daughter or my wife to hitch a ride with some random driver, licensed, bonded, insured, or otherwise. Yeah, fundamentally it’s no different than riding a bus, but it’s a lot easier to hide a van in a garage or back alley than it is to hide a bus.

    Further, I would not commute to and from work in the hope that someone with a van may or may not show up on my route. I would certainly use a bus on a timed, predetermined route, though.

    For now, we simply need to put money into reliable, usable bus service, both regionally and within the city.

  4. I have to agree with the other commenters. The Guardian is sometimes so negative it makes me wonder why you don’t run for political office since you are always touting that you have all the right answers. I’m sure that there are at least some public officals out there that are trying to do the best job they can with the resources they have been given. Statements like,
    “It is an understatement to say we are disappointed with elected officials. They have demonstrated a profound inability to cope with the mess they have created through growth.”, make me immeadiatly lose interest as you sound like just another armchair quarterback calling plays from the safety of the internet.

  5. One vote for “non-issue” regarding light rail and one vote for a train. The G-man seems to be suggesting a band aid while others want exploratory surgery with no prognosis for a cure. How are you going to “sell” a downtown Boise street car system to the Valley Ride members in Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell when the only benefit will be in downtown Boise? Will they vote to fund it?

  6. Remedial.Mind
    Jan 17, 2008, 9:10 am

    Do keep in mind that rail, bus and van are all means to rectify the single-occupancy vehicle dilemma. Each of these solutions have a specific use that, when taken together, establishes a comprehensive transit scenario that will reduce the cumulative number of empty seats on the interstate and principal arterials in the state of Can-Ada.

    Transit users have needs that must be satisfied before they will be comfortable enough to leave their cars behind. These needs can be satisifed by modes of use: rail is speed, bus is destination and van is convienance.

    One of the benefits of using a good ‘transit mix’ (rail, bus & van) means using multipal approaches to accomodate a broader cross section of transportation system users. A single approach will produce singluar results. Therefore, heavy rail, lite rail and even a downtown circulator have specific purposes for specific users.

    I would challenge the readership to consider using multiple tools to tinker with the complex transit system and consider the possiblilty that only looking at the rubber tire as a solution -may be missing the bus.

  7. I don’t think I mentioned that a light rail is necessarily needed at this time. But we do need at least some transit oriented development, BRT, transit lanes, transit nodes etc. That is laying some foundation for the future, and if at some point light rail makes sense then we already have in place the necessary right-of-way and lane capacity.
    As for the urban rail, I believe that it is need and I believe that all those people who work in Boise from Meridian, Eagle etc will use it. They will use it so that they don’t have to actually drive into Boise and find parking and they will use it to commute throughout the City. Whether they will pay for it or not is the question. If the urban rail were extended to the borders of Meridian and Eagle then maybe more would be on board, so to speak.

  8. Let’s consider some issues:

    Boise is growing, but we are no Salt Lake City. When the FTA distributes transit grants, the FTA wants to get the biggest bang for their buck like all of us. This means as the FTA has authority to distribute transit grants, those funds tend to migrate to larger metro areas. In speaking with the FTA they have explained to me they look for communities that are large, have high population density, have a population that is supportive and using existing mass transit, and communites where lawmakers are supportive of mass transit, ie funding.

    I have a difficult time seeing how Boise really meets any of those criteria. We are not very large or dense, nationally speaking, and the ridership and funding of our transit system is token at best.

    No community leader wants to be charged with not being forward thinking, and many people’s fear of not leaving a legacy in Boise has hurt our mass transit system. Amidst the paranoia to plan 20 years out, we find ourselves investing hundreds of thosands if not millions of dollars in pie in the sky studys such as:

    Downtown Circulator
    North South Circulator
    Rail corridor preservation
    VRT low, mid and high range plans by consultant Nelson Nygaurd
    Paratransit Study
    High Density Mobility Study
    Downtown Mega-transit center

    and many more. Despite all these studys over the years, the bus service has not really changed, and in fact as gas prices have spiked bus ridership in the nation has climbed, while Boise has lost ridership some years, and been stagnant other years. VRT is so little concerned about operations, it has been farmed out to a consultant to handle all operations, thus allowing VRT to focus on more studies that will never materialize in our lifetime.

    I would argue Boise needs a back to the basics lesson in mass transit. VRT management needs to stop all long range planning for at least 5 years. VRT management should focus on improving the existing service and terminate their contract with the operations consultant. Funds currently being allocated to planning efforts, need to be reallocated to improve bus frequency and extend operational hours. Then when VRT has improved serivce, ridership is up, farebox recovery is at least at the national average of 25%, then we can discuss some expansion and longer-term planning.

    If the busses were not running mostly empty and the community had a passion for mass transit visible by ridership, then local option taxing might not be so difficult to obtain.

    I can understand the reluctancy of many people and lawmakers, the current proposals on the table are literally we have a problem, let’s throw money at it.

  9. Calvin Jones
    Jan 17, 2008, 9:56 am

    Good points. But lets not kid ourselves autos do not pay their way; especially autos owned and operated in rural areas that depend upon revenue sharing from the Ada-Canyon County check book. Throw into the mix the cost of securing oil imports needed to fuel our autos drivers are one of the biggest recipients of government welfare.

  10. Anyone interested in the future of transit issues in Boise should be sure to attend the open house today at the former retail store at Idaho and Ninth Street in Downtown Boise. Public input is desparately needed to see if the studies that are being conducted are on the right track (I had to say that) or have missed the boat. Valley Regional Transit and COMPASS are co-hosting this open house to cover the three part study funded by the feds. The three components are what is called the Mult-modal transportation center siting issue, the Downtown Boise Circulator and preservation of transit corridors throughout Ada County. All three of these are critical to many future alternatives.

    The Guardian should particularly like the Multi-modal center because it is being designed almost exclusively for bus connections and to accomodate other urban transportation needs including bikes, vans, pedestrians and autos. It will probably end up to be similar to facilities currently operating in regional cities like Reno, Spokane, Tacoma, Sacramento, SLC and many other cities the size of Boise –I am sure there will be visual examples and plans on display at the open house.

    One comment made by the Guardian concerns the realignment of the center of the Treasure Valley to as far west as Eagle Road and as a result there is a question why Downtown Boise should be the terminus of transit alternatives. Part of the reason is that Downtown Boise continues even with the growth of the Treasure Valley to be the largest employment center in the state. Over 40,000 people work in Downtown Boise, compared to less than 20% of that number in any other pocket of employment. So regardless of where people live, they still tend to work in Downtown and that is why transit to Downtown is critical. One of the solutions that we all must consider is to get people to work closer to their homes or out of their homes…that is definitely part of the long term solution. Meanwhile it is just good planning to consider that Downtown Boise will continue to be important and a destination worth visiting.

    EDITOR NOTE–Tom, given your example would you support a local CITY INCOME TAX? That way, all those who actually make money and use Boise amenities will help pay. It would certainly be a great source of revenue with all the high paying jobs we have within the city limits. At a rate of 1% of gross earnings a $50,000 job would generate $500 in taxes.

  11. I do not support the idea of a trolley light rail system. But asking for a fleet of buses is just as bad.

    We already have train tracks that go through all the major parts of the valley, downtown, the mall, eagle fairview, nampa.

    That is the route everyone is taking, why would you need to change routes for mass transit?

    Also I think maintenance for a couple train engines would go a lot further than maintenance for hundreds of busses, and paying each driver.

    Not saying I want only trains. But when you think about it a combination of both makes more sense. A mass transit for the larger population of commuters, and then a bus system to take them to their final destinations. I would hate to try and figure out how I would get to work by looking through hundreds of bus schedules.

    Also, people build around train locations, which makes them even more permanent. You need to look at the success of the SLC trax.

  12. The Watcher's Watcher
    Jan 17, 2008, 11:14 am

    Who is obsessed with Light Rail? Let me sort this out.

    Mayor B is obvious as he has stated that “people will leave cars for trains – not buses” despite all evidence to the contrary.

    Mayor B even said that MotivePower could make the cars, but didn’t understand they make trains for commuter rail.

    Councilman Eb has stated that rail should be everywhere instead of buses – and this comes from a proclaimed urban economist.

    Meridian’s Mayor has asked ACHD (huh?) to consider a streetcar on Fairview in Meridian. Eagle’s former mayor sat at the COMPASS Communities in Motion forums and proposed light rail through the urban farms on Beacon Light Road.

    COMPASS has more than $1 million to spend on studies for a rail line from Caldwell to Boise (it’s under the guise of “I-84 Alternatives Analysis”), the lightrail streetcar downtown (predisposed by CCDC for rail despite the downtown mobility study calling for study of other modes) and a downtown “multi-modal” center (where the DBA is pitching for a downtown parking garage paid for with “transit” funds).

  13. Mike Murphy, Bull Moose Tenor
    Jan 17, 2008, 2:57 pm

    During my extensive travels across the USA it has been my observation that the vast majority of folks West of the Mississippi would rather be boiled-in-oil-alive than set foot on Public Transportation. Regardless.

    A sentiment that is very much alive and well here in Boise.

    And since the forethought has never existed to build dedicated Mass Transit/Car Pool Lanes ANYWHERE (Hell; The existing Bus Stops Downtown are clogged with unauthorized commercial vehicles, in full view, and with the tacit approval of the Mayor’s Office) , it should be noted that if traffic isn’t moving, neither are the buses!

    Plain and Simple.

    Wanna know what REALLY motivates people to take Mass Transit? Watching a clean, comfortable train/light rail blow past them at about 75 mph while they creep along the I-84/184 linear parking lot.

    I find few things in Los Angeles worth copying; But a notable exception is the I-105 vis-a-vis the “Blue Line”, where the rails run right up the center median of the freeway.

    I’ve ridden it. Sipping coffee, reading the paper, and laughing out loud (along with my fellow passengers) at the schmucks in traffic.

  14. As I said before, Boise is already the 3rd largest city in the Northwest and one of the fastest growing cities in the country. If you don’t think we quite have the population numbers to support mass transit at this time do you not think we will in the near future? How do you justify not wanting to plan for the future and lay the foundation for what will ultimately be needed? I’ve never understood the reactive approach to urban planning that seems to plague this community. By the way, the current bus system has low ridership because it operates ineffectively. Many cities have done it wrong and only a few have managed to do it right. Unfortunately we keep pointing to those that have had problems.

    EDITOR NOTE–I feel as though I need to defend myself. As one commenter noted, we have had more PLANS than anyone can count, but no fixes. I have suggested a batch of stuff in hopes that someone will step up and say YES, NO, or OK with MODIFICATION. All I am hearing is “We are big and getting bigger” and most people commenting want a train. If that is the case, made a proposal and let’s see if citizens really want something and are willing to pay.

    At this point government is the “negative” force. They don’t trust citizens to make a BINDING vote on much anything, fearing a “no” vote. Even if folks do vote no, it is just a matter of months before local government is back with their hand out.

  15. Guardian — I have to be careful making tax recommendations since it is my profession, my livelihood and my passion, but I guess I could respond to your question. I personally support any local option tax that is approved by local voters. I am relatively indifferent whether the tax is a sales/use tax like the current proposal or an income tax. Many transit systems across the country are funded by both sources. Oregon, of course, has no sales tax and the locals raise transit funds from a tax on employers based on the payroll paid in Portland. That would not be my first choice here since we already have other mechanisms in place for tax collection and it would seem administratively burdensome to add another.

    Funding, or in your terms subsidizing, the costs of mass transit is required for any effective system that moves people in urban areas. One of the earlier posters suggested that fare box revenues are typically 25%, an amount I believe is a little high but certainly in the ballpark. Other sources of funds include fed/state programs and local support. ALL of these are probably necessary to make a system go.

    Looking back at your question, I wonder if you were trying to get me to suggest that only Boiseans be taxed? My opinion is that transit is a regional issue and should be planned, organized, operated and funded regionally, but I would be willing to make almost any reasonable compromise to get started. As I have said before, in order to have transit in place when we do need it here in the Valley, say 2030, we need to start planning and funding today. Seems reasonable to me, so lets get it done.

    EDITOR NOTE–We agree that any transit system needs taxpayer support (we all benefit from clean air etc.) The intent of my income tax question is to tax people from Caldwell, Eagle etc. who make a living in our fair city and use our amenities…I guess that would go to fire, police, parks, and transit just to name a few. The Portland employer model sounds close.

  16. Good observations, especially how the center of the universe is no longer downtown Boise. Yet Boise officials view downtown as some sort of hallowed ground, where appearances and pedestrian-friendliness count. Meanwhile, the remaining 95 percent of Boise can be as pedestrian- and transit-hostile as it wants to be.

    Transit’s main obstacle here is that we don’t have the style of development to support it. The city simply won’t enforce transit-friendly development styles outside of the North End and downtown, even though the city’s comp plans have called for that since 1997. Local option taxation isn’t going to help change our land use.

    However, I have to agree with Calvin – autos do get a big subsidy. One-third of the ACHD’s budget comes from property tax, so taxpayers are footing the bill for the current auto-oriented road system. Then there’s the whole issue of fighting wars over oil being a subsidy …

  17. Everyone dicusses light rail as if it were just a function of will to get it going.

    Light rail will costs BILLIONS, yes BILLIONS of dollars. We never seem to hear that from those that think it’s a great idea.

    This area, even with Canyon County, Gem County, Boise County and Elmore County thrown in cannot financially support light rail. Even the State of Idaho, with its fairly meager population of 1.5 million or so is too small to support a light rail system financially.

    It doesn’t matter if we have development patterns that would be transit friendly, it doesn’t matter if we have 100% ridership, it doesn’t matter if every dime that goes for roads were suddenly shifted to light rail by both the State and the local highway fools, we don’t have the financial wherewithall to support light rail.

    We need to get off this train (ha) and develop the following:

    a-HOV lanes on the freeway, which will require an expansion of I84 to 4 lanes

    b-a greatly expanded bus system

    c-development of jobs in outlying areas

    d-after b is done, jack up the rates for parking in downtown Boise which will lead to c.

  18. Grumpt ole guy
    Jan 17, 2008, 6:52 pm

    Lots of good points made here. I seem to have a minority view in thinking that public transit can/does/should have a part to play in environmental matters, the most obvious of which may be a reduction of automobile produced pollutants.

    The recently passed and signed Federal Standards doesn’t do squat to improve this situation; we need additional solutions. Both my wife and I grew up using public transportation (bus services), in states distant from one another, and do so now, very happily, when we visit our Boise-raised, but no longer resident children. These children all left Boise for more fruitful, urban areas with strong public transportation programs and services.

  19. the_watcher
    Jan 17, 2008, 7:47 pm

    Great thread, thanks Guardian for initiating and hosting it…some more observations about the original post as well as some responses to the above:

    If you want to check out what is holding local transit down you should do a little investigative reporing on the transit union…I’m usually pro-union but that collection of misfits is doing a grave disservice the taxpaying public.

    Again, I applaud the Guardian for thinking out of the box but a fleet of vans run by volunteer drivers would probably work in a third world nation but not in the US w/rigid schedules, high expectations and generally very reliable services and infrastructure.

    Regarding the rail system, “…billions to build and a lifetime of debt…” is really showing some lack of objectivity and knowledge…you’re better than that Boise Guardian…its just simply not true. However, that is an accurate statement in regards to the road system though (that was somewhat tongue in cheek…I’m not an anti-roads person).

    Mr. Logic asked, “How are you going to “sell” a downtown Boise street car system to the Valley Ride members in Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell when the only benefit will be in downtown Boise? Will they vote to fund it?” To the first question, go out on an I-84/184 overpass in the am. I would be willing to bet most of those aren’t Boise people streaming into downtown Boise. They would use the trolley either by parking and using it to get around or by taking an express bus in. To the question, “will they fund it?”…who knows…I wouldn’t put it past local elected officials to cut off their nose to spite their face knowing the petulant histrionics of local mayoral relations…the people of the Treasure Valley deserve better. It shouldn’t matter, if done right the trolley could be paid for largely w/downtown fees w/very little outside support.

    Remedial.Mind makes a great point which is a great counter to those who say busses/cars/trains/{insert favorite mode here} won’t solve the problem. The simple fact is that there isn’t ONE solution that will solve the problem….its going to take a mix of strategies. Wait…that may not be true, the one solution would be to kill the economy somehow…that would solve the congestion problem. Bring that up at your local chamber of commerce meeting!

    RiverCity, Trent and Wonk Vader and others hit the nail on the head…there are other posts that talk about population in that we don’t have enough people to support rail/decent transit. Regional population doesn’t matter so long as you populate corridors properly with TOD/etc. Local elected officials need to get w/the program. They are killing the effectiveness of the $$ they are lobbying so hard for at the state legislature by approving all this awful sprawl…wake up people! You would think you weren’t from a fiscally conservative state! TOD, job centers, etc along major corridors…it isn’t rocket science…they are doing it in the rest of the country/world.

    And finally, to the Watcher’s Watcher (A stalker, I’m flattered): Key word “obsessed”. A few statements by some mayors and a crazy councilperson don’t count for an obsession. BUT…giving you the benefit of the doubt for a second even if they were obessed so what! They have no power to do anything. Little Billy w/his HO gauge trainset has just as much of a chance of making a change as local politicians w/no $$$. You undermined your own point by observing that Bieter is talking light rail and Motive Power…the two don’t go together, as you point out. And this is the guy you are getting your panties in a bunch about! I need to get a higher quality stalker. If they get the ok to go out for a transit tax they will have to get a major project list ok’ed by the voters AND the expenditure of the $ will be overseen by a board, not by a single mayor. Regarding the “light rail streetcar downtown”, they are looking at a trolley bus AND streetcar.
    But as BGuardian points out a rubber tire trolley has already failed so don’t be surprised when streetcar comes out ahead of shuttlebusses. A portland style streetcar in downtown Boise would do well.

    For the record…I think a rail or bus rapid transit connection down the rail corridor would work well. IF ALL the land use agencies along the corridor, Nampa, Caldwell, Meridian, Boise, etc. did the right thing and focused a majority of the development coming into the valley along the line. Sadly, there isn’t enough vision, leadership or smarts to take on the prevailing pro-market/anti-government bias in greater Idaho that has no place in the Boise metro area.

  20. Why Sara, it sounds like we went to school together! You couldn’t be more correct!

  21. I went to the open house today on the “transit” issue and found it to be allot of “transit PR”. I asked several questions about ridership numbers, land costs, alternative costs of various concepts and all I got was non-specific answers or “go read the Compass plans”.

    It was a good PR move to try to show law makers in town that something was going on but what was going on was just that – a PR move.

    As I read allot of the comments there were allot that expressed deep concern about:
    1. We cannot afford more taxes
    2. Estimates about use and ridership are just that – estimates.
    3. Boise is NOT Salt Lake or Denver or heaven forbid San Fransico!
    4. There needs to be PROVEN smaller succcesses before we spend $50 million on anything…a transit station or rail or whatever.
    5. Please preserve the Depot as a historical place – it cannot handle being a transit station (besides you would just have to bus everyone from there anyway) for the railroad – if there is one – it needs to run downtown anyway.

    I also heard several presenters say things like, ” we can get federal money if we only…..”.
    Doing things just to justify getting federal handouts is poor governing at its worst.

    All this “we have to get tax money and spend it now or it will be too late”, talk is more marketing and PR than reality. The best solution to traffic is having people work closer to where they live so they do not have to drive at all. Let’s move Boise offices to Nampa and Caldwell and start builing more office buildings there so those that drive to Boise do not have to commute at all.

  22. Until gas doubles from current rates, most people will drive rather than take an extra hour per day on their commute.

  23. If there is a legitimate mode of transportation (like a light rail or something similar) people will use it. Nobody wants to ride the buses because its the trashiest mode of public transportation in town.

  24. Mike Murphy, No Pants Tenor
    Jan 18, 2008, 8:51 am

    Up for a little fun while bringing attention to the transportation problem here in God’s Country?

    Join Boise’s First Annual “No Pants Day” on Friday, June 6th.

    Grab a cuppa joe, drop trou, grab a bus and enjoy a dollar tour of our fine town.

    For more information on this growing phenomenon in America, visit:

    and/or go to YouTube and Search “No Pants Day”.

    A Boise informational website coming soon.

    And remember, if anyone asks where your pants are… “Someone stole ’em”

    ; )

  25. I also attended the open house and had similar feelings that it was just PR. I did however note on numerous occasions the presenters discuss how important it is that growth comes to Boise, and how we are unable to bring large growth and big companies without more mass transit. There was no discussion about whether or not growth is good, and to suggest that government should not be spending tax dollars to promote growth seemed unpopular at best, and blashpemy at worst.

    I agree with a previous position of G-man, that growth can not be stopped, let’s welcome our new neighbors, but let’s not use tax dollars to encourage growth.

  26. Guardian — I have to complement you and your contributors for one of the most insightful and intelligent blog strings ever. The questions and comments are first rate. I will make sure that they all get circulated to the committees and task forces working on the Valley Regional Transit/COMPASS studies.

    If you went to the open house as Bill C I hope you left your comments and questions. These study groups are always interested in public input. Bill C mentions that there was too much PR and not enough substance and that is probably an accurate observation. However, I would recommend to any of you with interests in more than just PR that you visit both the COMPASS and Valley Ride web sites for the actual precursor studies, the minutes and handouts from all deliberations and much, much more data and information. I can’t say that all questions will be answered by the wizard, but I can say that there is alot more detail available for your review, consideration and critique.

    I won’t try to respond to every question raised by your contributors, but I would like to make a simple request of those who consider themselves liberterians or fiscal conservatives with regard to government programs. There is a series of position papers written by conservative guru Paul Weyrich and Bill Lind that make the case for public transportation including buses, rail, streetcars and other modes. They can be found at Take a look at their logic and conclusions…these are not liberal, progressive, tree huggers or even economic luddites. They are well respected Conservative Republican politicos that make a strong case for transit and more importantly public support through taxes for that transit investment. Are they right? Maybe, maybe not, but at least take a gander at their data and observations.

    While you are at that web site, you might find sources for answering some of your other questions about transit. You may even come up with new questions that we need to address. No one can say that the Treasure Valley is ready for Sara’s nightmare of having to spend BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars on transit. She clearly has found our Achilles heel.

    My response to her is that BILLIONS and BILLIONS will be spent on moving people and freight through the Treasure Valley…what we are trying to do is determine the wisest method for getting that done. Don’t be put off so much by the high cost because it is fixed, let’s try to be efficient.

  27. Sara, you said “Idaho, with its fairly meager population of 1.5 million or so is too small to support a light rail system financially.” Actually, we had a great rail system running for 20 years under private ownership early in the past century, when Idaho’s population was much less. One of the reasons it worked was because the land use supported it – things were close together, most destinations were withing walking distance of a transit stop, there were no parking lots or huge streets to spread everything out.

    The city’s 1997 comp plan called for transit-ready development and the city has done very little to replicate this style in the past 10 years (The Watcher hits on the lack of appropriate development as well). The only areas of Treasure Valley cities that could support rail transit would be the original neighborhoods and downtowns.

  28. Tom Ryder and Wonk Vader.

    Please. You must start being realistic. What Boise had in the past century is a nice historical fact. What is also historical fact is we no longer have those rails in place. The ROW for rail is gone.

    Do either of you doubt that the cost for light rail would be in the billions? If so, please tell us how many hundreds of millions it would cost.

    Tom Ryder. You say we will spend billions and billions to move freight and people through the TV. Ok riddle me this. If we switch every one of those billions to your light rail scheme, will there be a light rail stop within a block of every block in the Treasure Valley? Or will we need more billions to accomplish that?

    Everyone needs to get real. Light rail is EXPENSIVE. St Louis started with a small line at a cost of $435 Million. Oh yeah that figure was for 1993. Kansas City wants to start a system along the same small increment. Their cost is $1 BILLION for a starter line. Salt Lake City’s plan for expansion is only $1.2 billion.

    So who’s neighborhood gets taken in eminent domain first? What’s the cost of that? Who does the planning for the light rail system? The same people that bring you the routes for the bus system? How long does light rail take to construct? Well, first you need a revenue stream and a whole lot of money from that.

    The point is – be realistic. If you want mass transit to work, you need a better bus system. Otherwise you only have a mildly interesting debating society.

  29. After reviewing the current transit proposals I came to the conclusion that this scheme is all about development. I used to be pro train but now I am throwing my hat into the growthophobe ring. Now I am “no train”. When gas prices get to $6.00/gal people will drive smaller cars but they will not give up cars. Portland, OR is a great example. Great trains,great mass transit and still way too many cars. It is massively over congested with cars.

    How about starting with promoting telecommuting? My wife could do her job easily from our home without having to drive into downtown Boise every day. She would be way more productive too, by not having to attend countless meetings.

    How about…..
    Pay people to ride bikes?
    Commuter lanes on the freeway at peak times?
    Replace monster buses with vans?
    Staggered 4 day work week?
    Staggered 5 day work week?
    Bird flu pandemic?
    Have a water crisis?
    Close Micron?
    Send more jobs to China?

    What do they do in Phoenix, AZ? It’s starting to look like that around here.

  30. the_watcher
    Jan 18, 2008, 7:56 pm

    I’ve said it before but it bears repeating given some of the more recent comments…the cost/performance of light rail is all but moot in the Treasure Valley. Its a straw man argument. The fact is that there are NO plans for light rail in the valley. Some folks w/media attraction mention it WAY too often but that doesn’t mean its planned. Given the cost of light rail those who bash lightrail are correct…it wouldn’t be cost effective enough to justify. But that is one of the most expensive types of mass transit so lets not get distracted. There are other much, much cheaper types of rail & non-rail vehicles that would mimic light rail w/out the cost.

    Another point of correction…the rail right of way is not gone! The Boise shortline right of way is intact and in use for freight from Nampa to Boise.True there is no longer a decent, dedicated right of way to connect downtown from the Boise shortline along 84 but you don’t need dedicated right of way with bus rapid transit or some of the smaller commuter rail vehicles…which are fantastically cheaper than light rail. Given this, the eminent domain issue is blown way out of proportion.

    There ARE plans for greatly expanded bus service that would go along w/any substantial mass transit along interstate 84.

    As Tom R said, this is one of the best threads I’ve seen on this site and I hate to see it polluted w/spin and distractions.

  31. I am wondering where Sara is getting her information… or anyone for that matter…

    here’s a good article on the trax from the NYTimes.

  32. Trent, you do the math. 50,000 users out of 1.25 million residents. Kind of scary, huh?
    Salt Lake City is in a “natural corridor”. Mountains on one side, water on the other. Nothing remotely like that here, hence we can’t hope to duplicate the less than 5% ridership that Salt Lake City enjoys.

    So, at the very best, we could expect maybe 1-2% ridership? Sounds like a boat load of money for very little impact.

    In my business experience, when someone suggests a new product line, my first question is “have we max’d out our current lines? Are they the very best possible, the most productive, the most efficient products that we currently manufacture?” If the answer is yes, then we move forward on new products. If the answer is no, then we go back to work to make them so.

    My point is that until we have a surface transportation system that functions well, is efficient, and the very best system we can offer, we have NO business trying to develop rail at any level.

    Please refrain from the ressurection of long vacated rail lines in the valley. It ain’t gonna happen in the next 30 years! It’s a Utopian type arguement that accomplishes nothing constructive.Sadly, I believe that the most logical short and intermediate solution to our traffic will be more lanes, beltways, and by-passes. Not the sexiest solution, but probably the most realistic.

  33. Well Trent, here is the article from the Rockhurst Sentinel describing both St Louis and Kansas City.

    The article you posted a link to blows my little $1.2 billion to smithereens since the NYT says Salt Lake’s expansion plans are now at $2.5 billion.

  34. Approval for funding the Salt Lake City transit system was at the ballot box. You can learn more about how it was funded, how the citizens and voters became convinced to tax themselves to connect communities throughout the Wasatch Front and how it has become more popular every year by attending the City Club of Boise forum on Thursday. See to register and for more details.

    Sara complains about the cost which is astronomical. Now come and hear why the Treasure Valley should begin now to consider whether potential benefits of funding better transit outweigh those costs.

    The first step we need to accomplish here in Idaho is finding a logical source of funding. A state wide coalition is trying to convince the Idaho legislature that the most logical and germane source would be local taxpayers very similar to the SLC model.

    Come and hear how they did it there and get some of your questions answered at the City Club forum. Kelli Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit will also be on the program, so bring your tough questions and see how the experts respond.

  35. Tom R.–
    It is certainly a stretch to call Ms. Fairless an “expert.” She is the reason we have the current bus system in such a state of shambles.

    You need to talk to almost ANY bus driver to see how the rank and file feel about her skills.

    I hope the program you are touting on this open forum is just as diverse. For example will you have someone as informed as RON HARRIMAN who wrote the earlier story for the G-Man seen here?

  36. Tom Ryder, you sneeringly say that I find the costs of light rail astronomical. I guess you don’t.

    Here’s an article written by a federal reserve economist. Granted it was written in 2004 but it’s appropriate and won’t be out of date. Perhaps in reading this you might realize my “complaint” is rather a reflection of the reality of light rail.

    The title is Light Rail: Boon or Boondoggle.

  37. My grandfather used to run the trolley that was in Boise and we have pictures of him on the trolley. He was sad to see it go. It had to go when people simply did not use it and it got too expensive for the city to pay for it.

    He said that he felt Boise (and the area around) would not be able to afford a train or trolley ever again. He said, “people that move to Boise do not move here for its’ public transportation system..they move here to have 3 or 4 cars not 1 or two and to have larger lots not smaller.”

    I agree with him.

  38. Hey there Tom! If this is indicative of the response you folks are going to get at your, yet another,symposium, I would suggest you either double up on the Zantac or find someone to go fishing with that day.

  39. Sara — I am sorry if my written word came across as somehow disrespectful. It was not intended that way. I agree completely and unequivocally with the term astronomical cost when applied to rail transit. It is without doubt a heavy burden for society and I agree with your conclusion that it will cost in the billions of dollars. We agree on that.

    I believe our disagreement is solely on whether all options should be included in the discussion, investigation, planning and analysis phase of determining what is right for the Treasure Valley. I believe that to leave rail out at this point would be somewhat shortsighted. I have not reached a preconcieved notion that we definitely must have rail in Boise at a time certain, but I do strongly believe that it should not be removed from consideration so early in the process.

    We have both posted, as others have, expert analysis from other parts of the country and from various professional disciplines supporting our positions. Seems like some of the experts have disagreements…isn’t that always the case?

    I hope that one other area of agreement is that we as a community do need additional funding to help us solve our transportation needs in the future. That is the case whether we include rail, bus rapid transit, standard buses, no public transit, highways and roads, new bike transits, more pedestrian areas, or even somehow encouraging or incenting people to reduce their personal/business travel. Any solution will take more money…I think you will agree. From my perspective that is the first step, where do we get more money…how do we convince funders to help with our problems. The Idaho Legislature and Governor have made some very valuable concessions this year and are considering additional funding for ITD probably from increased vehicle registration fees. Increased fuel tax appears a non-starter and there is serious concerns about local option taxes being enacted. So we are still faced with finding additional money, again, regardless of how we finally decide what our solution is. The Guardian and others advocate slowing down the Valley’s growth. That is an option that I personlly don’t believe will be effective and certainly not productive, but then I am more of an optimist than many others.

    Again, Sara, I do apologize if any of my comments seemed disparaging… they truly are not intended that way. Please, if possible, come to the City Club forum and bring your questions. I also noticed in the Idaho Statesman this morning that the Idaho Environmental Forum is having a full afternoon of panels on January 30 at the Crystal Ballroom in beautiful Downtown Boise that will be discussing transit, power and other growth issues.

  40. Who says critical issues can’t be fun?

    Boise’s “1st Annual No Pants Day” will be the First Friday of June.

    Have a little fun, and bring awareness to the Treasure Valley’s need for more intelligent transportation solutions.

    Part of a growing “No Pants Day” movement in America, Boise No Pants Day receives it’s inspiration from New York City’s, that began 8 years ago.

    Please Visit:

    For More information about NYC’s recent No Pants Day, visit:

  41. the_watcher
    Jan 20, 2008, 3:09 pm

    Ok, I give up…I’m not going to try and stop the light rail discussion (Boise Guardian…you see what I mean about obsession!!).

    But if people are going to debate light rail they should do it right and have a complete discussion and address not just the costs but the benefits which are far from limited to just mobility improvements:

    – The ability of Light rail to spur substantial private investment (given the house of cards that is the Treasure Valley economy I would think that would speak volumes to people)

    – The ability of light rail to influence land use (not that I think there is the willingness for local elected officials to show some leadership or backbone to take advantage of this and stop this embarrassing sprawl)

    To be clear, I do not believe light rail is viable in the Treasure Valley (because of the high cost) but I see some weak arguments out there that pain me.

    In response to the sarcastic post talking about the symposium Tom mentions…I think this thread has been fairly balanced and if indicative of the discussion that is to take place it may be productive.

    I have a conflict the day of the symposium but the focus of the discussion should not be vehicle types (light rail, commuter rail, etc) nor a funding source (there needs to be more $ for mass transit PERIOD, and the anti-local, pro BIG government legislature needs to get out of the way of a representative democracy) but how land use patterns can be changed in the political and cultural environment that is Idaho because no matter how perfect your transit plans and funding are your cost-effectiveness is going to be s**t if you don’t have supporting land use.

    This is where I agree w/some of the crazy light rail bashers and the Boise Guardian…politicians talk about vehicle type too much because it sexy. I challenge anyone who attends the forum to challenge local electeds on this….”Tell us how you are going to create transit supportive land use, valley wide, BEFORE saying one single word about any new taxes or talking wistfully about TRAINS”.

  42. In the wild Mother Nature handles infestations of lemmings with cliffs and takes out overpopulations of jack rabbits with epidemics like Tularemia or increases in the numbers of ravenous coyotes and hawks.

    Although I feel sympathy for the Idahoans caught up in the local traffic messes I enjoy the Hell out of the daily traffic cam reviews of all the two legged immigrant lemmings nose to tail in grid lock sucking up their peer’s carcinogenic exhaust at the source of its creation.

    As far as voluntarily spending one more dime of my money so the transplants can still afford their mcmansions in Nampa, Murphy, Middleton, Eagle (WHATEVER) and commute comfortably to Boise? NO! That money too will have to continue to be extorted from me.

  43. As a native of this valley, I would like to report that I have never been on the freeway except to exit the state for a vacation somewhere else. I totally agree with dh and have no sympathy for the freeway drivers. They knew what their commute would be before they ever purchased a home in Kuna or Nampa. My suggestion would be to move closer to your job or get a job closer to your home. Stay out of commuter traffic – it’s a killer.

  44. Billy Idaho
    Jan 21, 2008, 1:22 pm

    Mr. Ryder,
    I am interested in why the Simplot Company is so interested in supporting the mass transit issue other than just being a good corporate citizen?

    What is the Simplot Company doing now to reduce traffic and air pollution? I looked on the company website under employee benefits and expected to see some info about how dedicated Simplot Company is toward the cause such as carpooling information.

  45. Probably a little tacky to pile on Mr. Ryder along with Billy, but here goes anyway. My neighbor works for Simplot and gets a big gas guzzler at company expense. Apparently they encourage the brass by providing expensive cars as a perk. Seems like society would be better off if they got a hot pink van like the G-man advocates.

    Mr. Ryder, are you a RIDER or do you get one of those expensive company cars? I hope you can tell the City Club you ride the bus.
    Given the number of “company cars” and pick ups, perhaps your efforts at reducing automobile use should start at the office.

  46. Tom Ryder, apology accepted.

    However, in regards to your premise that all options must be on the table, I disagree.

    Why spend countless more years and a lot more money on studying all options, when it is more than likely that some of those options will never come to fruition? It sounds like ITD studying widening the interstate to 3 lanes over a period of three years when four lanes were needed 3 years ago and the price during the interim skyrocketed.

    At some point we need to say enough to studies and start doing. Our bus system today is rather pathetic and not well used. This discussion re the bus system has been the same for the last 20 years. It is time for action.

    The bus system is the only viable transit option for this valley. Even those who want the train on the existing tracks that goes basically nowhere is going to need a bus system that links up with it.

    So rather than spend a lot of time blathering on and on about options, there should be an effort undertaken immediately to design a bus system that can work. Then figure out the costs of expanding the system and then figure out the revenue stream.

    If the solons in this community decide to power through a sales tax increase (assuming the Leg authorizes it) without a doable plan in place, I doubt it will pass and it should not.

    Realistically, other than lack of will, there is nothing keeping Valley Ride from redesigning their system as we speak.

  47. Meridian Mike
    Jan 21, 2008, 10:39 pm

    Great discussion everyone, and thank you, Guardian for getting it rolling.
    For those of us who are too tied to our jobs in the middle of the day to accept your gracious City Club invitation, Tom, can you convince Kelli Fairless to possibly weigh in on this discussion? Or maybe like the rest of us, she’s managed to find this site.

    If so, my first question, Kelli, is: Is a non profit and, as such, is it free to pursue donations directly from individuals and companies? I’m thinking about a wildly successful Idaho non profit, Channel 4 public television….a non profit that, by producing a good product, has a large community base (unencumbered by political boundaries) and with it a stable (non tax!) revenue source. While the city of Meridian is certainly under car commuter political pressure to spend tax revenue wisely, I’m free to personally blow my money on anything I like, and nothing would mean more to me than having useful bus routes. .

    What constraints does Valley Ride have on developing a trial route? For example, what if a group of donors said, ”Here’s enough money to meet the variable expenses of running a bus for a three (or six or twelve) month trial, will you use one of your extra buses to start a public route along this major artery or an express bus to this location?” How much per mile would that be? Does Valley Ride get all the ride share information it needs from ACHD and if not, and at the risk of offending ACHD, isn’t that data integral to what Valley Ride is trying to accomplish? I have a lot more questions and I’ll bet other bloggers might as well, Kelli, but that would sure help for starters. Rather than sending our comments and questions to committees (ah, government), I know I’d much prefer an answer in this forum, so we can can all learn from it. Thank you very much and good luck improving the bus system.

  48. Wow Guardian, is this a record number of comments?

    Obviously transit is a very complicated subject, and its hard to figure out a workable, fair solution to the issues.

    Just wanted to mention that I believe Valley Ride or Valley Regional Transit does have a 6 year plan. They call it “Treasure Valley in Transit.” According to the Valley Regional Transit website this will cost about $44.5 million a year to implement. It is unclear to me if this figure is for their total budget or for the additional cost of service, but in any case they seem to have a plan ready to go. Is the best way to improve the bus system to give it additional funding? More routes, frequency of service, and extended hours of operation all cost something right?

    Also, do we know exactly what kind of projects will be proposed if the legislature approves an optional tax?

  49. Response to the proposition of “Boise’s 1st Annual No Pants Day” to “generate awareness for the Treasure Valley’s need for intelligent transportation solutions” has been overwhelming and positive.

    The date has been changed to the First Friday in May, to coincide with similar events elsewhere.

    Boise’s 1st Annual No Pants Day will be Friday, May 2nd, 2008.

    Visit for more info

  50. Thanks to Curious Bob for citing “Treaure Valley in Transit”. The complete study and conclusions with detailed explanations and assumptions can be found at the Valley Regional Transit web site… It is one of those studies that we all seem to think lead no where, but in this case it does confirm that the answer to improving Treasure Valley transportation may require additional funding for public transit. This study does include some consideration for rail especially corridor preservation, but primarily it focuses on the Guardians favorite method of moving people, buses, vans and other alternatives.

    Sara is right on that it is time to stop the studies, quit analyzing and start taking real action. Unfortunately, the limiting factor is neither hopes and dreams or even demand…but is instead funding. The TV in Transit study identifies potential sources. The Treasure Valley transit coalition did a study and it identified various sources and many very knowledgeable urban planners have identified various sources, but guess what…all legitimate sources involve taxes in some form. Some one up above suggested a fund raising drive, the Guardian likes to believe that voluntary ride sharing is an answer and the tech people like to suggest home offices. I support all of those as we all should. But in the end, it does take lots and lots and lots of funding and those will fall short. Should we try them, sure go ahead…let’s educate, encourage and work together. But let’s be honest and admit that if we want to address the Treasure Valley transit congestion it will take massive amounts of funding from public sources and that means taxes. Again, whether you want to support public transit or not, massive funding will be required to add lanes, rebuild interchanges, condemn right of way and otherwise maintain our current plans.

    So, now we are left with question of who is going to pay these taxes? My vote is for the feds and tourists. I am also somewhat skeptical that will generate enough, so just as others who have published the studies (so many times) have concluded maybe the solution rests with US. Maybe a local funding source should be identified and tapped to solve these local problems. Maybe, as Pogo said, we have found the problem and it is US and maybe it is up to US to solve it…not the feds, not the state but the true beneficiaries of the good that will come of it. So with that in mind, and as I have stated previously, our first step must be identifying a secure and long term source of funding. My recommendation is we support the proposal that will be made to the Idaho legislature that would allow a local vote to fund transportation improvements…both roads/highways and transit. The proposal would require a super majority and would have many sideboards and protections for taxpayers and voters. The public vote would include a requirement that the plan for spending any funds be detailed and publicized completely. The actual language of the legislative proposal is located at various places including

    Oh, and in reply to Billy Idaho and Mr. Logic, do you really think it would be a wise career move for me to criticize Company execs? As far as Simplot is concerned, I am very proud of some of our programs including subsidized van pooling, flexible work hours for avoiding traffic congestion, our sustainable Simplot award program which recognizes successful reductions in energy usage and many other corporate wide programs to address these issues. Are we doing enough…no…none of us are and now we all must do more…including paying more taxes.

  51. So what does happen if Micron tanks? How about HP closing Boise operations? Will we have a transit problem then? Simplot has a lot to gain by a well funded transit system. You can bet it will get low paid workers to and from low paying jobs. It will also open up tons of Simplot owned property for housing developments.

    Will air pollution levels prevent us from getting federal money for transit? Assuming the Feds have any money.

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