Voices: Leaders, citizens discuss future of bus transit funding in Boise

During a Tuesday night meeting of the Boise City Council, more than a dozen citizens spoke up about bus transit in Boise.

Council member Elaine Clegg proposed to add $1-million split between the 2020 and 2021 budget years to increase Boise’s funding to Valley Regional Transit. It’s the first step toward an idea she talked about earlier this year to provide five percent or more of Boise’s property tax collections for public transit.

The council ultimately decided to direct city staff to put together a formal proposal to add the money to the budget. But before taking action, the city heard from citizens and users of the bus system for about an hour.

Editor’s note: Instead of a distillation of the conversation, I wanted to present people in their own words. While this is not every person who spoke or everything they said, it’s a sample of the discussion. This is an experimental format – I’m always open to your feedback at don@boisedev.com. And our coverage is made possible by members of BoiseDev FIRST – you can sign up today.

The meeting opened with a presentation on the property tax idea, as well as a presentation from Stephen Hunt with Valley Regional Transit. He outlined ValleyConnect 2.0 – which BoiseDev presented a Deep Dive on last year.

[Leaders hope massive expansion could increase bus usage 800%]

Elaine Clegg, Boise City Council Pro Tem: “What ideas do you have about our priorities. Are we on the right track? I also realize that the public never has a chance to talk about these things. It’s all kind of black box. Hopefully, this opportunity will allow us to all have a conversation about this and raise some awareness.”

Citizens

A portion of the crowd at Tuesday’s Boise City Council discussion on transit. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Gary Roeder, North End Neighborhood Association: “I really hope to ride a bus up and back from Bogus Basin some day. The city’s transportation action plan is more than two years old. It should be becoming increasingly clear that streets are not for cars – they are for bikes and walkers.”

The city has pushed for funding of a world-class library using at least 85 million of our tax money – and recognizing this isn’t an either/or issue – I think the city should really commit to a world-class transit system as well.

Ben Schrader: He commented on recent VRT route changes and issues it has caused to his mobility.

“Their last “improvement” to me has been a big step back. After my car died, I have nothing. So I’m back on the low-income housing list and I’m going to move back to Seattle. I can’t go to doctors’ appointments, I can’t go shopping – I can’t get around.”

[Growth, stadium, transit and a tax option: Bieter’s priorities for State of the City]

Jared Ostyn: “I hear people say ‘our bus system is terrible,’ I think that’s a poor way of putting it. I think they’ve done the best that they can. We need to make solid investments now – not in ten years when we finally get local option tax pushed through. I think by then that it may be too late to get our traffic patterns changed. We need to act on this now.”

Gigi Ferreira: “I’d like to support bus versus rail. Bus is a little bit more able to adjust versus a rail which is fixed. I’d like us to consider the rail line between Nampa and Boise. I’d like us to be proactive about our growth instead of reactive.”

[‘The pace of growth is too fast.’ Boise State survey sheds light on SW Idaho concerns]

Sean Perkins: “Public transit investments are a recurring and important economic development decision. The public transit system is a necessity to low and medium-low income people. My car was stolen, year before last on Thanksgiving Day. I had to begin the process of walking to and from work because I had to be to work before 6 a.m. so the bus didn’t (serve) me. I had to walk to work to keep my house and keep my livability standard in Boise. Transportation is extremely important.”

Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin: “For the sake of economic mobility and economic diversity in our community, we need to fund transit. I’m aghast that there are not crowds on the steps of the Statehouse rioting every day demanding (a local option tax). I think this is the single biggest tissue facing livability in our community.”

[Gov. Little: more money for transit, HOV lanes and that local option tax talk]

Ester Ceja: “I know some members of the community don’t want density in our neighborhoods. I think that the residents of the city need to take into consideration if we want a self-sustaining transit system, we need some level of density.

We need more direct routes. I was about 4 and a half miles on the Greenbelt – it was faster for me to ride my bike or run to work than to (use the bus system).

I don’t know if any of you remember Mayor Coles project for a light rail that ran for one week (in 1997)? I think we are behind the times.”

Diane Ronayne, Idaho Advocates for Community Transportation: “I’m excited that the City of Boise and adjacent communities and agencies are taking steps to work together to enhance transportation options. We hope these options will include advocacy for local option taxing authorities so citizens can vote for the authority to use sales tax to pay for transit.”

Sarah Taylor: “I think being able to have the discussion about bus rapid transit and priority lanes is important to have. “

Nina Schaeffer: “When you look at that map of the ‘state-of-the art bus routes,’ they are great, but they don’t connect to very important parts of the city. Neighborhoods that may not be able to drive. They may have language barriers or they do not have the documentation to drive.”

[BoiseDev in-depth: To Build a Library]

Eva Hrubec: “As a daughter of a mother who is very intelligent and very independent – but is 83 years old and cannot drive – it’s hard because she doesn’t want to always call on us but can’t always get where she wants to go because of the bus system. I’m here because my ten- and 12-year-old daughter said ‘get your butt down there.’”

Laura Pierce: “If you’ve never considered taking the bus – May is May in Motion. For the whole month of May it’s free. That might help you understand the accessibility issues we face. Can you make it to work on time? Come ride the bus with us. “

City leaders

After the public hearing, each of the council members and Boise’s mayor made additional comments. A selection.

Lauren McLean, city council president: “(Property tax) is the one tool we have right now. It won’t get us all the way, but it may end up moving the needle some. I think that every step we can take to address traffic challenges through public transportation is a step well taken. I’d like to see us do more if and when we can in the coming years when we look at budgets. Starting here makes sense to me and I look forward to hearing the feedback from the (upcoming) community conversations and deciding on where to go.”

Lisa Sánchez: “I know what it’s like when your car breaks down. I know what it’s like when you depend on it for everything. Not just for errands but to get to and from work. As I sit up here, I am low income. Don’t be fooled by the glitz and glamour of the dais. I rely on the city to be my partner. To those who testified, I’m very moved by your grace and generosity. There aren’t a lot of people who say ‘take more of my money’ to do something good. For those that were willing to make themselves vulnerable, to say they struggle and aren’t making enough money. For those willing to be brave for your brothers and sisters, thank you for doing that.”

TJ Thomson: “I would encourage our colleague cities to come to the plate so we can make those connections and improve service. I live in West Boise. Not just the ‘west end,’ but west of Cloverdale, and it’s very difficult to get to work on time and bike or walk to the closest route for myself.”

Scott Ludwig: “Local option is so important – I agree with the uprising at the Capitol (comment above). I’ve always from the very first day I was here been frustrated on how do we get to answers here. You have a couple thousand riders a day and we pay $7.4 million per year. So what kind of investment do we make here? I just struggle with, is it an efficient system that can help even more than 2,000 riders a day? I struggle, do we take the money and put it in the system to a few people, or use this money in a more targeted way? I get very frustrated in trying to figure out how we make this all work for people. It might be one of those things that ‘add money and it will help,’ but I really want to know how to help more people and get more bang for the buck.”

Holli Woodings: “I think Boise really has an opportunity to lead. Currently we lead in the amount we contribute to transportation in the valley. I’d like to see the other cities (step up). We are entrusted to serve our citizens and not the citizens of Meridian and Nampa – and I’d like to see a better system that goes beyond our borders, and the way that’s going to happen is with the other cities in our valley building up their contributions to. I hope it has that intended impact on our neighbors and sees them raise their contributions.”

Dave Bieter, Mayor: “I’m glad people brought up State Street. ACHD and ITD don’t give a damn about a commuter lane. I know that’s a broad statement, and there are pockets that do. But they are building intersections that might not be able to be retrofitted for transit. I was glad people intuitively see State Street as a bus rapid corridor.

Only two states in the country that don’t have state funding for transportation or a local option – Idaho and Alabama. Unless you are talking college football, it’s not where you want to be – no offense to anyone.”

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