A few months ago, Christina Quinn of Caldwell began riding the intercounty bus to her job in Boise after her car broke down and she couldn’t afford to buy a new one. She said she was surprised at how much she’s saving by riding the bus.
“It’s a lot cheaper than I thought,” she said.
Quinn estimated that she saves about $8 a day in gas alone by taking the bus.
People who commute between Canyon County and Boise know all too well what it’s like to be at the mercy of traffic, fluctuating gas prices and sometimes dangerous winter road conditions.
Owning a car and commuting isn’t cheap. It costs about $20 a day to own and operate a small sedan and drive 15,000 miles per year, according to AAA. That cost goes up for larger vehicles and more mileage.
Valley Regional Transit’s intercounty bus routes provide an alternative that cost $2 to $6 a day or less to get from Canyon County to Boise or Meridian and back. The five intercounty routes are aimed at commuters and provide a significant savings for people who can make it work, but the limited system isn’t convenient or an option for everyone.
The intercounty and Canyon County lines don’t run on weekends and the last stops are at about 7:30 p.m.
Still, more people are riding the buses each year. Ridership on the intercounty routes has increased 11.9 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to Valley Regional Transit’s 2013 Annual Report.
There were more than 140,000 boardings in fiscal year 2013 compared to 130,000 in 2012.
Limited funding prevents Valley Regional Transit from expanding the lines, said Kelli Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit. Valley Regional Transit is aware that the service isn’t enough, she said, but without more funding, there’s not much they can do to expand it.
For example, Route 43 makes two trips in the morning to Boise and two in the afternoon to serve people in Caldwell.
“That’s not because that’s all the service that’s needed for Caldwell — that’s how much we can afford given the amount of funding we have,” Fairless said.
Boise State University and the College of Western Idaho contribute funding to Route 45, which is an express route designed to haul people back and forth between Boise and CWI’s Nampa campus. Thanks to that funding contribution — $27,500 from BSU and $7,729 from CWI — the route runs slightly later than the other intercounty routes, according to VRT. The first stop at CWI is at 9 a.m. and the last is at 7:57 p.m., with seven round-trips in between.
Several riders on one of the intercounty buses said they’ve had to make adjustments in order to make the bus work for them.
Quinn said that now that she knows how affordable it is, she would like to keep riding the bus, but it doesn’t exactly line up with her schedule.
She works an overnight shift and has to be at work at midnight. She’s able to ride the bus from Boise back home to Caldwell in the mornings when she’s done with work, but she has to find a ride to work at night or take the latest bus and find something to do for a few hours until her shift starts.
Jana Nelson of Nampa has been riding the bus to her job in Boise for four years. She turned to the bus when her job in medical billing was transferred from Nampa to Boise. She had to work with her employer to adjust her schedule so she could ride the bus and she said she’s fortunate that her work is on the bus line. Without that, Nelson said she wouldn’t be able to ride it.
Nelson chooses to ride the bus so she won’t to have to deal with traffic, driving in the dark and winter road conditions, she said. Plus the $35 cost of riding the bus each month is far less than buying one or two tanks of gas each week.
Instead, she drives a short way to the bus stop or has her husband drop her off there then lets someone else handle the driving the rest of the way.
“I like being driven,” she said. “It works out well for me.”
The hourlong bus ride gives Nelson time to relax and work on her Sunday school lessons, and she arrives at work without feeling stressed, she said. Although Nelson doesn’t mind the hourlong ride, five of her coworkers who used to ride the bus with her couldn’t tolerate it, she said, so they stopped riding.
Carol Cramp and CC Schauf, both of Boise, bring their bikes along when they take the bus.
Cramp can drive but chooses to ride the bus to her classes at the College of Western Idaho’s Boise campus instead. She estimated it costs her about $10 a day to drive to class, but because she is a student at CWI, Cramp can ride the bus for free. Students just need to get an annual sticker for their student ID cards and show their ID to the driver.
“It’s a great resource to have to be able to ride the bus for free,” she said. “You just have to know your routes.”
She brings her bike for backup in case the bus is late and she misses her connecting bus. Once, she had to scramble to pick up her child from day care on time for that reason.
Schauf takes her bike with her when she rides the bus from downtown Boise to her job in Meridian, because the bus doesn’t run late enough for to her take it back home after work, she said.
She also gives herself an hour to get to work in case the bus is running late, like it was recently.
“It was 20 minutes late, so I had to ask to see if I missed it,” she said.
VRT is beta-testing an online service that will show riders where the buses are along their routes on a map. It’s not yet available for the public, but VRT is moving in that direction, said Mark Carnopis, community relations manager for VRT.
INTER-COUNTY BUS OPTIONS
There are several routes that provide service from Canyon to Ada County and back. Route 40 starts at the Happy Day Transit Center in Caldwell and makes stops at CWI, downtown Boise and Boise State University. It runs from 5:20 a.m. in Caldwell to 6:36 p.m. Route 42 starts at Happy Day Transit Center at 6:23 a.m. and continues to CWI, to Franklin Road in Meridian and Boise Towne Square Mall. It also makes morning and evening stops in downtown Boise and at BSU.
Route 43 makes morning and evening stops in each direction from Caldwell to Boise starting at South 10th Avenue. Route 44 serves Middleton, Star and Eagle in a single express trip from Caldwell to Boise.
“The way the service was designed is to maximize getting people from Canyon County to employment centers in Ada County,” Fairless said.
Depending on the route, a trip from Caldwell to downtown Boise will take about an hour or longer.
The fare for Route 40 is $1 each way, and the other four are express routes, which cost $3 each way. There are 31-day, three-month and one-year passes available that save riders money compared to paying the daily fare. The 31-day pass, for example, is $36 for Route 40 and $70 for the other intercounty routes.
Boise State and CWI students can ride for free with a sticker on their ID cards, which is available through the schools.
Local employers also work with VRT to offer incentives for their employees to ride the bus. Through the Premium Pass program, employers can purchase passes for their employees that are good for unlimited rides on all ValleyRide buses for one year.
The Choice Pass offers 31-day and three-month passes at discounted rates for employees and there are also discounts for nonprofit organizations and their clients.
For complete fare, route and pass information visit valleyride.com.