More Than Money Needed For Buses

By Jimmy D. Bus
Guardian Transportation Correspondent

On Tuesday night the Boise City Council heard testimony from citizens about the crappy Valley wide bus system as the Council considers adding even more funds to the ever declining system.

Crappy. That adjective was used at a recent Valley Regional Transit (VRT) Board meeting by none other than the Leader of Team Dave (Mayor Dave Bieter) to describe the Valley Regional Transit System. At a later VRT meeting Hizzonor tried to walk back his comment saying he was referring to the financing available to VRT and not the actual operation of the system itself.

But the recently released VRT 2018 Annual Report seems to confirm Hizzonor– a system of extremely poor quality — one definition of crappy.

A few highlights.
• VRT spends about $ 10 million a year to provide bus service in the Valley.

• Passenger fares covered about 7 % of the cost in 2018. Possibly a new low. Most of the remaining 93% was borne by local and Federal tax dollars.

• Bus ridership is down, again, Valley wide despite all the population growth in the Valley.

• Even after adding service in 2018, Boise bus ridership declined about 4% from 2017- a new recent low. The 2018 ridership level, about 1.46 million trips, has not been seen since the 1980s when Boise’s population was half of what it is now.

• Nampa, Caldwell, and Intercounty ridership declined about 7% from 2017. Why is ridership down in the Valley despite adding evening and other services? Well, one reason could be riders like buses to be on time. Buses in the Valley aren’t running on time.

• Boise buses run late (more than 5 minutes) nearly 35% of the time.

• Nampa and Caldwell buses run late about 45% of the time.

• Intercounty service buses late about 45% of the time. Worse yet, buses pass their stops early. Nothing more aggravating than seeing the back end of the bus you were trying to catch because it passed the stop early.

• Boise buses run early nearly 6% of the time.

• Nampa or Caldwell buses run early 12% of the time.

• Intercounty service operates early about 10% of the time.

Bus riders appreciate clean, well maintained buses, which operate on time, or nearly on time, providing consistent service by friendly, knowledgeable, safe drivers. Those are key elements to building ridership and increasing passenger revenue. As usual, VRT is moving with glacial speed to address declining ridership and buses not running on time.

Rather demanding administrative cost reductions and better management of existing resources from VRT, the only answer Boise politicos seem to have for improving the bus system is to throw more money at it.

Certainly a crappy deal for local taxpayers who already pay more than $7-$8 in excess of the fare for every person who rides a bus.

The writer has extensive education and professional experience in transit issues.

EDITOR NOTE— here is a link to a BUS SOLUTION we posted 12 years ago…it got nary a nod from the bus folks, the council, or the mayor.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Every time I see a bus I think Obama

  2. Inna Patrick
    Apr 19, 2019, 7:06 am

    Editor, I do like your “Bus Solution” as “Surface subway”. The remaining connectivity can be addressed by shuttles or new “Uber” service.
    This way, officials would be working on putting in the road infrastructure and removing traffic bottlenecks instead of cramming us in together like sardines.
    Right now, as usually, every stretch of every road near my house is being torn up, with the flaggers at the intersections and turned off light signals. And it is called “roadways improvement”, while one of the roads literally disappeared!

  3. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to run smaller empty busses rather than big empty busses?

    EDITOR NOTE–Common question. Usual answer is the big cost is the drivers, but you do make a good point.

  4. Foothills Rider
    Apr 19, 2019, 10:02 am

    This 2018 article has more stats. I, too, was going to comment on Uber-based options. Per linked article, $10 million is bus operations, mentioned by BG above. Additional $15 million is listed as for “capital costs and improvements.” At an average fare of $13.36 per Uber trip (look it up), this $25 million more than covers current ridership if converted to Uber. VRT would do just as well to fund all transit via Uber trips.

  5. I wonder how many Uber/Lyft rides an $8-million contract could subsidize.

  6. Interesting to see the solution offered 12 years ago still appears valid, and apparently that trolley talk was going on even then!

  7. And yet the leadership at VRT stays the same.

    the epitome of crappy government operations.

    VRT has to be the worst local agency; followed closely by ACHD as the second worse– that explains why our roads and traffic is the #1 problem in the valley.

  8. The big problem here is that in order to build the big bus system they want, it will require density to attract more $$ to get it. But more density means more crime, more poverty, more taxes and less freedoms. It’s the plan to alter the political landscape to socialism. They need to import more voters for their causes. They pretend to solve the problems that their own policies create. Just look at Commifornia. More and more people jammed in cities create the very blight they complain about. The streets of LA are brimming with homeless. There is feces and needles all over the place. There’s already needles here in Boise. I see them here and there. How long til the feces come next?

  9. Create the Problem
    Apr 20, 2019, 9:35 am

    Yes the bus system is crap but be careful that we do not fall for the process of government “creating a problem” so they can “create a solution”.

    Don’t fall for the “If the bus system is broken than that must mean we need to spend a gajjilion dollars on a trolley or light rail system.”

    Don’t get rope-a-doped!

  10. Hey, that might work. ValleyRide contracts with Uber/Lyft, puts the VRT wrap on the Uber/Lyft vehicles, sells annual passes to their 5000 to 10,000 riders (making up the 1.5 million trips per year), pre-pays Uber/Lyft for those annual pass holders, sells all the big, empty busses, lays off drivers and maintenance staff, and reducing their admin costs to a minimum.

  11. Cost for the drivers
    Apr 20, 2019, 5:36 pm

    Can anyone tell us what the actual “hourly wage” is for a driver to start? I’ve heard complaints from drivers because it is so low.

  12. western guy
    Apr 20, 2019, 9:40 pm

    Valleyride had a big PR blast a couple of months ago regarding promotional discounts for using Uber within 2 miles of certain bus routes.

    But the promo codes only work for one month.

    Anymore advertising on this deal from Valleyride?

  13. I have never understood why huge buses travel the city completely or almost empty. Does the transit authority feel they are doing God’s work by providing a service that no one uses?
    I understand that buses have higher occupancy during the travel hours for getting to work. After that, use ACHD shuttle vans that are parked from 8 am to 5 pm, give or take a half hour. Why pollute and waste so much fuel?

  14. .
    Let’s not forgot VRT is also the administration for the Boise Greenbikes.

    lots of money to get a few tourists on bikes.

  15. $800,000 More For VRT
    Apr 22, 2019, 9:37 pm

    The April 23 City Council Agenda Packet shows that the City has just been able to “free-up” $9.2 million of funds, of which $800,000 will be used to clean up the backlog of maintenance with VRT. This maintenance issue and expenditure was not mentioned at last week’s City Council hearing on increasing annual budget funds for VRT- of which $500k per year was approved. Text below is direct from the Interim Budget Changes document.

    “Valley Regional Transit (VRT) operates the public transportation system in Boise and the Treasure Valley. The system fills a vital transportation need and is a tool that can help alleviate traffic congestion as the City and surrounding areas continue to grow. Over the years, VRT has deferred various maintenance needs to grow and enhance the system into a larger, more capable public transportation network. Deferred needs include replacing aged rolling stock as well as facility and technology needs.

    Given Boise City is the primary local funding source for VRT, and benefits from a majority of VRT’s services, the City has an interest in VRT assets being properly maintained. Proposed FY 2019 funding is $800,000 in additional capital funding to support VRT in addressing some key deferred maintenance items. In years going forward, it is anticipated that a higher level of VRT capital funding will be needed to address other transportation system deferred maintenance needs and prevent this issue from reoccurring.”

  16. western guy
    Apr 23, 2019, 5:41 pm

    Bus maintenance: why isn’t Valleyride able to maintain its rolling stock on a regular basis, like any other competent fleet?

    And of course the City of Boise is playing with budget numbers if they are able to ‘come up’ with $9 million at the last minute.

    EDITOR NOTE–Ironic that they have cut a deal with GREYHOUND to use the Boise garage to maintain the big dog buses on a contract basis.

  17. Elected public servant’s Dave Bieter and the Master Bieters have spent close to $5 million for the continued study of a downtown streetcar to shuttle folks from one CCDC parking garage to another.
    I believe the group just allocated another $350,000 from the “GENERAL FUND” Same fund the group free-up the $9.2 million!
    Why did our elected public servants WASTE our money to build the “garage terminal” for VRT, beneath the US Bank building in the downtown core? For Gardner Company? Probably.

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