Along with the general decline in the economy, growing unemployment and stabilizing gas prices, fewer people are using public transportation. National transit ridership has decreased 2.6 percent in the first half of fiscal 2009.
But the Treasure Valley's Valley Regional Transit recently set an all-time high ridership mark of 1.4 million boardings for the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. This record mark was reached with some surprising increases, including Nampa ridership going up a staggering 22.3 percent and Boise right behind, up 14.7 percent.
Valley Regional Transit Communications Manager Mark Carnopis was glad to see the jump.
"It was surprising, " he said, "But we welcomed that surprise, definitely."
Carnopis attributes part of the increase to the addition of bus stops spread throughout both Ada and Canyon counties. Originally crafted as a flag-down system, the introduction of bus stops which serve as "mini-billboards" advertising the bus helped provide bus riders with information about when and where to get on. With more concrete information on the transit line's schedule and stops, it appears that more and more Idahoans are opting to ride.
But despite the record numbers, Eagle, which helps pay for bus routes through its town, cut funding for a popular line. Last month the inter-county Highway 44 Express, a back and forth between Caldwell and Boise, with stops in Middleton, Star and Eagle was nearly eliminated. A tough economy led Eagle to cut $15,000 towards the Highway 44 Express in its 2010 budget. This loss of revenue would have meant the end of that particular line as early as November of this year, but a public hearing allowed many transit riders to plead their case.
Boise State and the City of Boise came to the rescue, ensuring that the Highway 44 Express will keep trucking through at least September 2010.
"It was very good news," Carnopis said, adding that rider testimony helped to sway the decision.
"We had some really gut-wrenching stories," Carnopis recalled. "About, you know, people who were laid off, and they only have one car and, you know, the mother stays at home and the father works, or vice-versa, and the importance of their employer providing some or all of the cost of a monthly pass. So I think it did have an impact in terms of making the decision."
Valley Regional Transit is hoping to build a Multi-Modal Center downtown that is on the proposed Boise streetcar line, so Carnopsis sees the proposed streetcar as a positive.
"If we can have all the buses in one area, one bus leads to everything else, that would be beneficial for us. If they do not move that proposed route, there certainly will be a symbiotic relationship there," he said.
Carnopsis also understands that the economy is still changing, and the Treasure Valley is likely to change with it. "We had a double digit increase in a time where large transit systems are seeing drops in ridership," he mused. "We really are in somewhat of a unique situation here in the Treasure Valley, and we hope we can continue to build on that."