Joshua Prigmore is a sophomore at Boise State; he is also a non-traditional student who is married and has
two kids. When he and his wife made the difficult decision to downsize to just one car, Joshua was left to find alternative transportation to get to school. He and his family live by the mall, and Joshua has since been a regular on Valley Ride’s buses.
He typically gets to school around 7:30-8 in the morning. So far, it only takes him about 25 minutes to ride the bus to school. He says the bus is clean and comfortable, and he doesn’t ever feel stranded at school with no car since there are so many things to see and do within walking distance of campus. Joshua is grateful for the free transportation that is helping his family save a lot of money while he pursues his education.
Still, Joshua takes an evening class that doesn’t get out until 7:30, and the last bus leaves before that class gets out. “It would be helpful if they had a bus that came at 7:30 or 8,” he said.
Valley Ride buses presently offer 16 routes and run from around 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Arguably, there are many students who may benefit from the bus running a little later in the evening, but at this point, expansion really isn’t an option for them.
There is one bus that runs until 9 p.m., but it is a bus that is strictly designated to run between Boise State and the College of Western Idaho in Nampa. It does not stop anywhere between and is just supposed to serve as a shuttle for students who may have classes at both campuses.
Mark Carnopis, community relations manager for Valley Ride, said many people ask why Boise can’t have a bus system more like Salt Lake City’s or Portland’s. The simple answer is money. Large urban areas are supposed to rely heavily on their city for funding for local transit. For example, Salt Lake City has a local sales tax that’s devoted to transit. Idaho code gives no option to ask voters to approve a city-option tax, making that solution unrealistic for Boise’s transit system. And what state funding transit does receive is so minimal, it often only covers the cost of purchasing necessary vehicles. According to Carnopis, that small amount of state funding allocated for transit is distributed between seven or eight transit systems that exist in other parts of Idaho.
Revenue from box fares and advertising only pays for about a fifth of Valley Ride’s costs. The company also receives some federal grants and relies on local contributions from entities that utilize its services, like Boise State. “If you look at that collectively, it’s not a very robust financial structure,” Cornopus said.
Carnopis said after the economic downturn in 2008, cities have still continued to include Valley Ride contributions in their budget. “There was a time when they had to take a real careful look at their budget and if it’s an issue of providing adequate police protection or fire protection, to many that wouldn’t be a very difficult choice to make.”
Boise State pays for students, faculty and staff to ride Valley Ride buses for free with an I.D. card. The school pays a greatly reduced rate for those travelers’ bus fares, but even if students and staff were willing to pay full fare, it would not solve Valley Ride’s funding problem.
Bus riders are not charged a great deal of money to ride, and even if Valley Ride were to significantly raise fare prices, it would only raise a small amount of money in comparison to what it would cost to increase bus hours. It wouldn’t work to increase the hours of just one bus whose route includes the university.
Valley Ride would have to increase hours across the board for every bus and for every route in order to not leave riders stranded, and the funds are simply not there to do that.
J.C. Porter, associate director of Transportation & Parking at Boise State said, “Right now people say they’d ride more frequently if the bus came more often, and VRT (Valley Ride) says it would come more often if more people rode. It’s kind of the chicken or the egg thing.”
But Carnopis maintains that sheer lack of funding is the limiting factor here. “When you don’t have money to do that kind of expansion, you have to start thinking outside the box,” Carnopis said. Valley Ride is currently looking at some alternative forms of transit, which, for the time being, may accommodate some stranded riders.
Since one of Valley Ride’s highest costs is the cost of employing a driver, they have developed the Volunteer Driver Program. Through this program, a driver can use his or her own vehicle or one of Valley Ride’s.
He or she meets other carpoolers at a certain point and takes them from point A to point B.
“It has been very good for after hours and in rural areas since there’s no bus service out there,” Carnopis said.
The Boise State Parking & Transportation Department is also looking into alternative means to help students get to campus. According to Porter, next year Boise State plans to try a Park ‘n’ Ride system that will take people from the airport to campus. iRide, which is a carpool sharing website where people can go online, create a profile and connect with people who have similar destinations and schedules, is another option for people. Vanpools opportunities are also available, and information can be obtained through Parking Services. Where can students find information about vanpools?
Valley Ride services currently cost the university around $100,000 a year. The amount Boise State pays is based on how many students rode the bus last year. On average, over 75,000 students use Valley Ride buses each year. Most universities currently charge a student fee to utilize the local transit, instead of the money coming out of the transportation budget. But at Boise State, revenue generated from parking permits and citations has been helping to pay the bill for Valley Ride’s services to students.
In the meantime, Parking and Transportation is working hard to educate students and faculty about the alternate means of transit available to them.
They recently hired Susan Seigneur, transportation demand manager, whose attention will largely be spent promoting those means. It is much less expensive for the university to pay for alternate means of transit than it is to expand parking structures.
The notion is that if more people knew about the options available to them, more people would use these alternate modes of transportation to campus.
“If students have questions on bus routes or riding their bikes, they should come in and we can help them find the best and cheapest way to get to campus,” Porter said.