Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Will Public Transit Work?

In response to a comment I received from a previous post, let me attempt to address the issue of the practicality of public transportation in the Treasure Valley.

To begin, lets get a few things out of the way. Number one, the solution that the Treasure Valley should be seeking is not like anything else we have seen. Number two, the issue of "transit not paying for itself" is a strawman argument (as Sen. David Langhorst rightly pointed out in his recent Readers View). Number three, whether or not a specific individual would use transit is not the extent to its utility.

Okay, now if you accept my premises the answer to the question of IF a transit system would work is able to be answered. To be concise, yes, I do believe it would work, provided the aforementioned premises exist, which I believe they do. There are several reasons for this that I will outline henceforth.

Culture - While I would agree with some of my colleagues from Canyon County that suggest that culturally the transit approach is unfamiliar to native 2Cers and thus it would be difficult to accept, I would submit that the enormous boom in population in the Treasure Valley is more than just a heightened appetite for procreation. Indeed the birth rate in the Treasure Valley is presumably (and I say presumably because I don't have the data to back up this statement) higher than most other parts of the country. That leads us to the logical conclusion that there is a degree of importation of citizenry from elsewhere. Most of these new Idahoans have come from places with transit and they know how it works and they will use it if it works. I should point out that I am singling out 2Cers because back in the late 80s and 90s Boise had a thriving bus system cleverly named The BUS (Boise Urban Stages). This, it seems to me, mitigates the cultural barrier.

Time - Perhaps this is just conjecture, but I don't really think that people in the Treasure Valley like sitting in traffic. Obviously. What makes this different, I think, is that even the folks that have moved to Idaho, who, "are used to really long commutes" find themselves getting agitated with there trek from Nampa to Boise even in comparison to the time they probably spent commuting from the Inland Empire to downtown LA was three times as long when they didn't use the transit. Ironically, something seems to grind on the slow paced nature of Idahoans with just sitting in traffic. I think it is a matter of people being slow paced by their own volition and certainly not wanting the pace dictated by someone else. All of this is to say that I believe that time is precious enough to folks that if they can be shown to save time by using transit, they will do it.

Cost - The money issue is a big one. Nothing is going to change the predilection of many Idahoans to buy a truck. So to say that transit will replace the car as it has done in other places is just dumb. What is true, however, is that people will become more sensitive to gas prices as they increase. In so doing, they will seek alternatives to balance out their need for their truck (or other vehicle) and their need to get to work. I really believe that if put together the right way, transit will fill that void.

These are the three major issues, as I see them facing acceptation of transit in the Treasure Valley. What I should also point out, is that to expect that transit, once built, will be at capacity, is unreasonable. As I've mentioned, people will have to see it work. They will have to hear from neighbors that indeed, it does save them time and money. They will have to take it for a test drive just like they did when they bought their new car.

As a bonus, let me tell you what I think we should be doing. Assuming the funding mechanism exists (and I grant that is a big IF), we should do three things immediately. First, we should begin negotiations with Union Pacific with the intention of purchasing rail corridors throughout Ada, Canyon, and Gem Counties. Second, we should identify options for parking lots that could be used for park ‘n ride lots (especially in Canyon and Gem Counties) and then build out our fixed bus line services from these lots. Lastly, we should provide incentives to the private sector for participating in getting their employees “the last mile.” My rationale behind this is that we don’t have the population density to support the immediate use of light rail. To be clear, light rail does have a future in the Treasure Valley; its time is just not now. Waiting to begin addressing the future need for light rail would be costly and detrimental so the initial steps in that direction must be a part of the current solution. The solution I outlined addresses both the near term and long term needs of the Treasure Valley.

I’ll stop there for now… I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Rep. Marv Hagedorn said...

Great thoughts Brandon, but does it pencil out for the taxpayers?



Anonymous said...

Mr. Durst,
Our growing state, especially Ada, Gem and Canyon counties need efficient public transit.
It will pay for itself many times over.
The unemployed that do not have a way to work, will ride a public system and pay employment taxes.
The Senior Citizen or a disabled resident that physically cannot drive will take a public commuter to the mall, to the grocery store or to a medical facility; independently at their discretion.
An offender that has lost their license can ride to their place of employment, enabling payment of fines and restitutions.
Environmentalists would be more content knowing they are not adding to the inversion or simply not using fossil fuels unnecessarily, providing the uncalculated monetary benefit of free advertising of the system to everyone they come in contact with.
Well timed, developed stops using clean transports, will profit the State of Idaho with fare paying, productive people, utilizing land and fuel efficently.
The question is not, "Can we afford it? The fact is, we cannot afford to not do it.