Imagine a scenario where your car breaks down and you don’t have the money to fix it. You live out in the suburbs and regularly commute downtown to attend classes and are now forced to find another way to get around.
Suddenly you remember that Boise has a public transit system called ValleyRide prompting you to hop online to see if you can take the bus to school. Boise State includes a bus pass with your school ID so maybe going without a car won’t be so bad.
Your optimistic attitude soon turns sour when you realize most buses run only once an hour with services ending by 7 p.m. each weeknight, making it impossible for you to take public transit home after staying late in the library or after an evening class.
Boise’s public transit system is lacking for a handful of reasons, but most boil down to one factor: money.
Public transit in Ada County is funded partially by the federal government and mostly by the city of Boise itself forcing ValleyRide to compete with other city budget essentials like the police and fire departments.
With a national and state economy that has seen better days, it is unlikely that city officials will begin expanding bus routes and hours anytime soon. Without extra cash to spread around, ValleyRide will stay as it is.
But why is everyone driving their own cars to work and school anyway? Why don’t more people opt to build a rail system and expand bus operations?
The answer may lie with the policies of a former American president. When Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House in the 1950’s, he fostered the creation of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, or the freeways system as most call it now.
This system linked states with roadways that could also be used to quickly mobilize military forces to any part of the U.S. during a time when invasion from the Soviet Union was seen as a serious threat.
While a freeway system may have given military leaders some peace of mind on the home front, it forced American citizens to purchase automobiles to get around, creating a culture where cars became the main mode of transportation.
Keep in mind, this was during a period of booming economic growth and plentiful, cheap gasoline so most Americans probably didn’t blink an eye. Now we live in an age of economic stagnation and high gasoline prices.
Many Idahoans are already struggling to stay afloat in dark economic times, so why should we carry on with transportation policies that place extreme burdens on those who can’t afford to drive?
This isn’t the 1950’s anymore, we aren’t locked in a cold war with Soviet Russia and last time I checked, gas sits at $3.50 a gallon. It’s time for Idahoans and Americans in general to push legislators to build practical mass public transportation systems.
It’s important to recognize that the system is broken. Times have changed and we need to adapt or get left in the dust.