The Idaho Statesman
Terry Crawford would rather wrestle a 30-foot bus through
the narrow streets of Ketchum than don a coat and tie and
stand before a gaggle of lawmakers.
But on Thursday (Feb. 12), Crawford and other public transportation
managers from across the state descended on the Capitol and
explained the difficulties in serving what they say is an
increasing need for public transportation in both urban and
Transit has all these special needs that aren´t
being met, Crawford said.
The Idaho Task Force on Public Transportation, composed of
public officials, transit managers and others, is lobbying
for changes in state law that would allow local communities
to ask voters for money to fund public transit. Such a request,
expected to be introduced next week, may not be embraced.
But task force members said they hope to at least get lawmakers
talking about public transit in Idaho, one of only a handful
of states without state support of transit.
A bill wasn´t introduced Thursday, but transit agencies
want the power to ask voters for additional funds from something
like a vehicle property tax.
Lawmakers have not supported public transportation funding
in the past decade, but advocates now point to public opinion
surveys showing support for transit as well as other issues
coming to the fore.
In the Treasure Valley, support for public transportation
was a campaign issue last November among several candidates,
including Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.
Public transit is seen as a key to relieving traffic congestion
and controlling air pollution. Increased use is central to
a State Street plan adopted this week by the Ada County Highway
But in addressing members of three legislative committees
Thursday, transit advocates said public transportation is
a statewide issue, not one specific to the Treasure Valley.
Ketchum Area Rapid Transit cannot afford to serve the growing
number of people who work in the resort community but are
forced to live elsewhere because of the high cost of housing,
said Crawford, who manages the system. Commuters crowd the
otherwise rural Idaho 75 during rush hours, he added.
There are jobs in Twin Falls for unemployed people in the
area, but they have no transportation to get to work, said
Joseph Herring of the Region IV Development Agency.
We want it very clear that this isn´t just a
Boise city problem, said Elaine Clegg, a Boise City
Councilwoman and co-director of Idaho Smart Growth, a statewide
organization that advocates public transportation, among other
On Thursday, the task force made presentations to transportation
committees in the House and Senate as well as the House Revenue
and Taxation Committee. Lawmakers received what ValleyRide
lobbyist Roy Eiguren called the most complete study of the
state of public transportation in Idaho ever produced. ValleyRide
is the transportation provider for Ada and Canyon counties.
The study found that Idaho is one of seven states that does
not provide state funds for public transit. And 33 states
have some sort of local option tax devoted to public transit.
Currently, Idaho transit agencies are funded mainly by federal
dollars and local matching money that comes from individual
governments. For example, ValleyRide gets money from the city
of Boise to operate the bus service. The problem, transit
providers say, is that funding may fluctuate wildly from one
year to the next based on budget situations and council members´
Lawmakers asked few questions Thursday. Advocates acknowledge
that they face an uphill battle.
Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairwoman Dolores Crow, R-Nampa,
said there isn´t a need for increased public transportation
We have buses running around without very many people
on them, Crow said after the presentation.
The empty buses are an image problem, acknowledges ValleyRide
Director Kelli Fairless. But they are empty, she says, because
ValleyRide tries to provide service to all parts of Boise
instead of just high traffic areas.
The agency is revamping routes. But Fairless and others also
say more money would allow them to increase marketing of the
service, provide more frequent and direct service and thus
Transit advocates are realistic that a funding option bill
may not pass this year. At the least, they say they hope to
elevate the issue to a point where it is studied by an interim
legislative committee and discussed again next year.
It´s not something that should be thrown on the
shelf and forgotten about, said Republican Sen. Cecil
Ingram, of Boise, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
A lot of people would like to get out of their cars,
but we just don´t have the system in place to do that.
Patience is key, Eiguren said.
It takes one or two or three sessions of the Legislature,
he said, to build a coalition that will allow something