Out of Control Policy Blog

Light Rail in Boise? Better get some bus riders first

From the whistling past the graveyard file...Boise's transit agency has to offer free rides to get people to ride the public bus system, and the Mayor thinks they need a light rail system?

With finances that auditors describe as murky and a fleet of buses that often run without passengers, the Treasure Valley's biggest bus system is on shaky footing. And even though managers say they are retooling the books and designing better routes, the Treasure Valley's transit system needs help. Meanwhile, Mayor Dave Bieter says he wants Boise to move toward new transit options, including downtown trolleys and, ultimately, some form of light rail. Some city officials are wondering if Valley Ride is ready.

"Personally, I'm looking at ridership," said Boise City Councilor Jim Tibbs, who sits on the Valley Regional Transit Board. "Before anybody starts talking about a light rail system, you'd better start getting some butts in seats on the bus first."

Problems surfaced first in 2005, when an in-depth audit of Valley Regional Transit uncovered financial reporting practices that didn't exactly go by the book and, in some cases, didn't even conform to basic bookkeeping standards. The independent audit submitted in April of 2005 described financial mismanagement that included a lack of timekeeping records, inventory reports or written procedures. Bus managers say they recently fixed what auditors called "material weakness" and "reportable conditions" but Boise city officials say there's more to be done.

Valley Regional Transit (VRT) needs to demonstrate that it can live within its means, said Bieter spokesman Michael Zuzel. Without that, lawmakers and the public will be unlikely to send money their way.

More riders would also add dollars to the bus budget. But VRT managers admit that limited resources have created a basic problem: Commuters don't see the bus as a viable transit option because they don't find many buses that take them where they need to go when they need to go.

If the bus system is so mismanaged that it can't figure out a decent route system, why would anyone even consider light rail--a far less flexible means of transit than buses--in Boise?

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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