View the chart: Public Transit – How Does Boise Compare?
In 2011, the Brookings Institute released a report comparing the public transit systems of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. While Boise/Nampa is near the middle of the list in population size, the Brookings report shows that the Boise-Nampa system serves fewer working age and low income people than most other large metropolitan areas. The system is placed 90th in frequency of service, according to Brookings. While the Boise-Nampa system reaches a larger percentage of jobs than the average public transit system, the average working age resident who is served by public transit, can only reach a little more than a third of the jobs in the Boise-Nampa area within an hour and a half.
According to the U.S. Census, five percent of Boise-Nampa residents do not have access to a vehicle. Many more low income families cannot afford gas or car repairs when they do have a car. One third of Boise-Nampa residents are either between the ages of 12 and 17, are older than 65, or are between the ages of 18 and 64 but have income below the poverty line. For these residents, the limitations of the bus system have personal impacts. For those who are unemployed and without a reliable vehicle, access to fewer employer sites equates to fewer opportunities for employment. For those who are employed and rely on public transit, longer wait times mean less time to spend with children, less time to prepare healthy meals, and less time doing other family activities. Among seniors, lack of public transportation may impact their ability to maintain community ties, and even their health. Studies have shown that older non-drivers make fewer medical trips, and about two-thirds as many family and social trips as older drivers. Public transit has the potential to bridge these gaps.
The movement of people, jobs, and services away from city centers to the suburban fringe creates many challenges to serving a community with public transit. Still, the example of other cities represented in the graphs below indicates that there is a great deal of room for improvement in the Boise-Nampa Metro area public transit system.
A barrier to improving the current situation is that local governments in Idaho do not have the ability to tax residents to provide a ‘good’ public transit system – even when the citizens are willing. A local option tax would allow for local governments to create and maintain a system to move more people where and when they need to go – without adding cars on our roads. In 2008, 56% of Idahoans supported granting cities and counties local option tax authority. This is consistent with prior years’ findings.
Ultimately, Boise and Nampa must increase the capacity of the public transit system to reduce traffic congestion. Employers and citizens should support these efforts to create better public transit– and a local option tax – for the greater good. The many benefits to our communities are clear.
For more information on local option taxes, see this link to a Public Policy Center white paper on city revenue sources.
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