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Incoming VRT chief looks to build transit system that's easy, convenient

Longtime Boise city councilwoman Elaine Clegg leaves City Hall in February to become CEO of Valley Regional Transit. She says if transit is easy, people will use it.

BOISE, Idaho — Elaine Clegg will be the next CEO of Valley Regional Transit. The outgoing Boise City Council Member says she has a passion for public transportation and wants to pass that along to everyone in the Treasure Valley.

Some of the criticism around public transportation is that it’s sparse in the Valley because people don't think about using it, so there's no demand for it. Clegg said that's not the whole story.

"We look at transit as a behavioral issue. People don't use it because they don't understand or it's not part of their culture or whatever," she said. "I think people don't use transit because it isn't easy. It isn't convenient. It doesn't go where they need to go. I want to build a system that's easy, that's convenient, and goes where people need to go. And I think if we do that, people will use it."

Essentially, Clegg believes when it comes to more public transportation, if you build it, they will come. Right now, VRT has a bus system with just a couple dozen routes. But if all they have to do is build a lot more public transportation, why aren't they already doing that?

Well, somebody has to pay for it.

"We are the only state in the United States that doesn't support transit at a state level,” Clegg said. “We're one of the few (states) that doesn't allow a dedicated source of funding for transit. A lot of people are beginning to understand what a barrier that is to growing in the way that we want to."

To break down those barriers, Clegg is going to have to get a lot more elected leaders and potentially bond voters on board with dedicating tax dollars for transit.

Something she will not have to get the public on board with is the idea of bringing passenger rail back to Boise. That includes long rail, like to Salt Lake, or even commuter rail, like from Caldwell to Boise, which can help connect people to other modes of transportation like bus and air service.

"One of the reasons I became a proponent of long rail is that it then establishes passenger movement on that rail corridor. And once that's established, then in fact, we can use it for commuter," Clegg said. “Having said that, without a good bus system underneath it, it won't work. And so we really need both."

Obviously, we'll still need plenty of roads for those buses and to keep driving your car as an option, but it can't be the only option. And bottom line, people love trains. So, Clegg said, if she can find the funding and support, passenger rail could be just eight years away,

“This is not something you're looking at for your grandchildren. This is for us. Let's get to work," Clegg said.

Clegg drove that point home by saying just filling up the Valley with more lanes of highways is exactly how Los Angeles got to be the traffic nightmare it is. Clegg's first day as the new CEO of Valley Regional Transit is coming up on February 13.

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