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Talking Headways

Talking Headways Podcast: On the Bus in Boise

We chat with Elaine Clegg, CEO of Valley Regional Transit in Boise Idaho about how the Boise bus system is changing, the impact of fast regional growth, energy infrastructure and favorite transportation board games.

2:38 PM EST on February 8, 2024

This week we’re joined by Elaine Clegg, CEO of Valley Regional Transit in Boise Idaho.  We chat about how the Boise bus system is changing, the impact of fast regional growth, energy infrastructure and favorite transportation board games.

You'll find an edited partial transcript of our conversation beneath the audio player below. For a full, unedited AI-generated transcript, click here.

Jeff Wood: It feels like Boise’s often mentioned as one of the places where people have moved because of the pandemic and the migration that has happened from western cities — from San Francisco and Seattle’s and such to smaller large cities like Boise, Austin, etcetera. And so I’m curious what that’s meant for the discussions about growth in the city and the region overall and what that means for a transportation, too.

Elaine Clegg: Great question. The first thing it’s meant is that it really blew up our housing market. We were always a pretty affordable housing market despite all of the growth. We had the largest increase in housing prices anywhere in the country after the pandemic. Boise’s now a very unaffordable in terms of housing market, as is the rest of the region. There’s not enough housing supply. We’ve done a lot of housing analysis and know we’re 27,000 housing units short, so that’s been the first impact. And out of that, of course have grown a lot of discussions: "Well, do you shut the door? What do you do? Oh gosh, now the freeway’s a mess."

What are we gonna do about [the freeway]? We don’t have any more room on it. It’s gonna be $2 billion to add another lane. Is that worthwhile? Maybe not, but maybe we should look at a bypass highway. Does that make sense? You know, all of those discussions are starting to pop up. What hasn’t been part of the discussion, frankly, for the last 10 or 15 years is, "What is the role of transit?" I think one of the reasons I got hired in this position is that they knew that I was capable of making it part of the discussion again, and that it needed to be. Over the last year we’ve done a lot of outreach, a lot of awareness, raising a lot of, "God, what’s transit’s role as an answer to some of these challenges we’re facing?"

There’s still a fair number of people who say, "Oh gosh, you know, this is the west. Everybody loves to drive. I don’t know why anyone would wanna do transit." But there’s a growing number of people who are saying, wait a minute, riding the bus is actually pretty cool. I can get work done. I don’t have to be white knuckled in traffic. I can sleep. I can listen to podcasts, I can do whatever I want without being distracted by thing I shouldn’t be doing while I’m driving. And oh, by the way, if I don’t have a lot of money, it really can be a money saver. The bus I ride, I try to ride as frequently as I can, has a young engineer, for instance, who rides regularly because he and his wife made the decision that they wouldn’t buy a second car and he could get to work on this bus and it worked just great and he loves it.

So it’s not just people who don’t have any other choices, it’s people who are looking at this choice saying, “hey, this is something that could make a difference in our lives if we make it”. So we’re trying to highlight those kinds of stories so that the decision makers who still have the perception that transit has a very limited place in the discussion can begin to understand that no, in fact, Transit could have a really big place in this discussion and really If, you look around the country is the only thing that truly mitigates traffic congestion in any meaningful way. We know from long experience that just adding more lanes only induces more traffic.

And if we’re going to make a difference in moving more people in less space, how can we do it? Transit really is that answer.

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