Public transportation development in Boise increases despite funding constraints

Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

As Boise’s population has grown, the city has experienced an increased demand for public transportation, but funding in this sector is limited and existing transportation resources are being underutilized. 

In an effort to increase awareness regarding transportation resources, Boise State’s Parking and Transportation division presented on campus alongside the Ada County Highway District’s Commuteride program on Sep. 28 to help provide the campus community with information about public transportation and commuting in Boise.

Commuteride is a program of the Ada County Highway District that aims to “promote smart commute options through education, rideshare services, and effective partnerships.” 

The program provides resources and information about the different methods of commuting in the Treasure Valley, including riding buses, biking and walking and using the program’s Share the Ride Idaho service.

“You need to give people a lot of choices in order to get their transportation needs met. The more choices they have, the healthier the community is,” said Ada County Highway District 1 Commissioner Jim Hansen.

Share the Ride Idaho is a service provided directly by Commuteride that utilizes a van or carpool system, which can be especially helpful to those who do not live near an active bus route. 

Users who register with the program online can input their daily commute and will be matched with an existing van or carpool that aligns with their desired route. Carpools can be used when two or more commuters want to take turns using their own vehicles to drive the group. The costs associated with the commute are then divided between all users. 

[Photo of a Boise shuttle bus.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Vanpools, on the other hand, are a formal arrangement between five or more commuters to share a ride to work or school. Vanpools use passenger vans provided through Commuteride, and again, the full cost is split among all passengers.

“[Share the Ride Idaho] encourages employers to get their employees a carpool (or) vanpool and it’s really great to help people realize there is another option,” Hansen said. “They’re still tied to that van, so they don’t have quite the choice of picking a bus that might come every 20 minutes, but at least it’s better than taking their car and paying for parking and it fills an important niche in transit services.”

As of 2021, Share the Ride Idaho has roughly 4,500 users which is a 45% increase from the year before, according to Commuteride’s 2021 annual report. While this is a positive increase, it is a very small fraction of Boise’s commuter population and more engagement is still needed for the service to improve in efficiency.

Data from the Idaho Department of Transportation shows that there are over 385,000 motor vehicles registered in Ada county alone as of 2019, which is almost 100,000 more vehicles than a decade prior. As Boise’s population has grown, traffic congestion in the city has worsened, making essential the use and availability of public transportation. 

“If you don’t have what’s called high capacity transit, which could be light rail or bus rapid transit, you end up having massive congestion and you have a sprawl development pattern,” Hansen said. “The absence of that has led to a lot of sprawl in our valley.”

The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) is an association of local governments including the Ada County Highway District dedicated to assessing and planning for the transportation needs in the Treasure Valley. 

The organization released a draft of a long range transportation plan in September, and is currently accepting public input to ensure constituents have the opportunity to voice their concerns.

“[Public opinion] matters hugely because everybody moves about the community,” Hansen said. “Public input is important and it is taken seriously, but we don’t get enough by far, so the more the better.”

COMPASS’s most recent long range plan is called the Communities in Motion: 2050 plan, and includes both short and long term projects to improve transportation in the area. 

While the Communities in Motion plan could bring a lot of benefits to Boise, it is reliant on both public support and massive increases in funding. Some projects, such as the widening of several city roads and increased bussing, already have funding accounted for— but others, such as a high-capacity transit system, have not yet been sufficiently funded.

The only way that this plan could be fully implemented is if the Idaho Legislature were to allow counties to implement a local option tax, or a tax that is decided by the affected community. Currently, Idaho is one of only 12 states that does not allow for a local option tax.

“We still don’t have the local option authority to fund a robust transit system,” Hansen said. “To fully implement Communities in Motion to (address) long term transportation needs, it does require tools that we don’t have.”

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