Idaho Transportation

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Lewiston-Moscow transit service on the way
Moscow Valley Transit system expands after usage explodes in 2005

By Omie Drawhorn
Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Valley Transit Executive Director Tom LaPointe’s face lights up and he gets an excited grin on his face when he catches a glimpse of a Moscow Valley Transit bus passing by. These days he has plenty to smile about.

Moscow Valley Transit is scheduled to start routes between Moscow and Lewiston in February. MVT will charge riders for the service. A fee schedule is yet to be released. Routes within Moscow are free.

MVT has come a long way from eight and a half years ago when the the name was Valley Transit. The system expanded from Lewiston, first as a dial-a-ride service and then a fixed route service two years ago.

Back then, Valley Transit had bus systems in Lewiston, Clarkston and Walla Walla. When the Lewiston area became urban, Moscow was able to get rural transportation grants, enabling the city to start a public transportation system. A transportation subcommittee made up of parents, seniors, students and teachers was set up to decide where and how often the buses would run.

Today, Moscow Valley Transit has a west and an east route running through Moscow, going through the University of Idaho, Palouse Mall, the downtown area, Latah County Fairgrounds and Eastside Marketplace, taking about 30 minutes to go through each route.
LaPointe reports a 68 percent leap in ridership over the last year. The total number of boardings jumped from just more than 42,000 in 2004 to almost 71,000 in 2005.

“Moscow is hungry for public transportation,” LaPointe said. “Anyone can ride the bus. Everyone should.”

He attributes the sharp growth to a variety of sources: more awareness of the bus system, higher fuel prices, environmental concerns and parking and traffic constraints.

“Some people are just finding out about the bus system,” he said, adding that it’s his job to make people more aware of the service. At this time there is no charge to ride the bus through either of the routes.

He said it can be hard for some people to ease up on their reliance on cars and use public transportation more frequently.

“We all come from a car-dependent culture,” he said. “These low occupancy vehicles waste resources.”

LaPointe said his goal is to make riding the bus as convenient for riders as possible.
A single parent who works, has children to care for and runs errands during their lunch hour can use the bus system if it’s convenient enough.

“The challenge is making sure it’s convenient as possible so we’ll use it,” he said.

Karen Lichtmberg works on the University of Idaho campus with the Chi Alpha student club. “I go to campus every day,” she said. “When it’s snowing I usually ride three times a week. It picks me up right outside my house, and it’s really nice since parking on campus is pretty bad.”

Lichtmberg reflects a fondness for the bus among many UI students.

Phil Arpke, a mechanical engineering student on the University of Idaho campus, said he lives about a mile away from campus and rides the bus when the weather is bad.

“I’ve been very happy with the bus so far,” said Sue Appmeyer, a teacher at Logos School. She’s been riding since the beginning of the school year. “I ride the bus to school and catch a ride home from school (with my sons),” she said. “It saves the drive back and forth.”

The State of Idaho Transportation Department grants $18 million a year for public transportation across the state, and $4 million of that goes to rural areas (cities with populations under 50,000) which includes Moscow. The transit system, which employs 25 people and has three buses, requires $250,000 a year.

LaPointe said he was shocked and delighted to find that 80 percent of Moscow residents said they support using tax money to support a bigger public transit system during a 2004 city survey.

With inter-city routes between Moscow and Lewiston on the horizon and the potential to expand within Moscow, Moscow Valley Transit’s future LaPointe sees a bright future.
The two buses that will be used for the Lewiston routes sit in the bus parking lot there at the moment, undergoing inspections to ensure they are fit for the drive.

“We know we’re going to make mistakes so we are going to start slow,” LaPointe said.
He said he knows of Lewis and Clark State College faculty who commute from Moscow who will happily use the service.

“The demand during the week will fluctuate,” he said. “We’re listening to people and will try to look at their requests within reason.”

LaPointe said he looks to Pullman Transit as an example. Pullman’s bus system has 1 million boardings a year, an amount comparable with the Boise public transit system.
“I hope to do half as well as Pullman in 10 years,” LaPointe said.

He welcomes public input on the Lewiston route, as well as anything else related to the bus system. LaPointe can be contacted at 883-7747 or by e-mail at .

Published 1-27-06