This isn't directly related to bicycling... sorry. It's about a bus ride I took yesterday. (The bus is my "alternative transportation.") I wrote it for the Boise Guardian; I don't know if he'll publish it or not.
Public transportation is a contentious issue in the Treasure Valley.
Proponents say it's the inevitable answer to increasing congestion and pollution, and fluctuating fuel prices. Opponents point out that it will always be heavily subsidized by non-riders, particularly if the buses are often transporting very few passengers.
In our generally affluent society, most people can choose whether or not to ride the bus, because they can afford to own and operate a car (or multiple cars, in most households). However, some individuals depend on public transportation to get around; their only other option is shoe leather.
Why do people choose to drive cars? Usually they cite "freedom." Freedom to go where they want to go, and when.
Most people say the bus isn't an option because of inconvenience, or scheduling issues, or difficulty to use.
My own local transportation choice is bicycle. Has been since 1986. I feel it affords the same freedom that a car offers, but without the expense. The main limitations are... it involves some exercise (is that bad?), and weather looms large. Slippery roads can be difficult in a car, but deadly on a bicycle. So occasionally I depend on bus transportation when the roads are snow-covered or icy.
Yesterday was one of those occasions.
I had to travel across town (from downtown to the Cole/Ustick area) after work, for a family Christmas gathering. If I caught the 5:15pm bus, I thought I could easily arrive at my destination by the 6pm gathering time, despite the 3/4 mile walk at the other end. (Amazingly, no bus gets closer than 1/2 mile from Cole/Ustick, other than one "high school" route change in the morning, and again in the afternoon.)
I was at the downtown bus stop five minutes early, and watched as other buses arrived, loaded passengers, and departed. I got anxious. But other people were there, waiting for the same bus, which provided a bit of comfort.
Finally at 5:28, the Fairview bus arrived. I paid my fare and sat, still somewhat optimistic that I might get there on time if I hurried.
But as it turns out, that was the 5:45 bus. Apparently there wasn't a 5:15 bus yesterday, for whatever reason. But at least I got to wait another 15 minutes in a nice warm bus (and arrived fashionably late).
I'm a lifelong Boise resident, and have no plans to leave. So I have a stake. And for that reason, I would love to see a viable bus system. The traffic jams don't have much impact on a cyclist, but the air pollution certainly does. Transportation is a quality-of-life issue for everybody.
I'm asking myself: Would most of my fellow citizens be willing to walk 3/4 mile to get to a bus stop, or from a bus stop to their destination? I'd have to say no... particularly when it's 3/4 mile of ice and frozen slush. Would they choose a transportation option where the scheduled bus might or might not show up... at all? I'm thinkin'... um ... no. (Yesterday I was wondering if the Boise Bus system is run on the same computer that does the BCS football thing!)
The bus system is severely underfunded. Nobody would deny that. Federal funds have dried up over the years, and there is no local funding either. But the harsh reality is, without more riders it's hard to justify more dollars. And without better routes and reliability, I can't envision more voluntary passengers. Right now it serves desperate citizens who have no choice (like me), and the lucky people who it's convenient for.
I jokingly (at least half-jokingly) say that "cars are for losers." But I sure didn't feel like much of a winner yesterday.