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Comparing commutes in the Treasure Valley: Car versus bus

Four in five Idahoans drive alone to work, meaning less than one percent take public transportation. Justin Corr embarked on a mission to find out why.

BOISE, Idaho — This is the 2nd weekly story in a month-long series called 'Transportation Tuesdays' here on Wake Up Idaho.

Four in five Idahoans drive alone to work. I'm one of them. Less than one percent take public transportation. 

Why is that number so far below our neighboring states and the national average? How would taking the bus compare to the way most of us commute normally? I grabbed a bus pass to commute to work and find out.

I started by walking five minutes from my house to my nearest stop in South Boise, after doing a little research on the route to work. I downloaded the app to pay for my ride... then downloaded the correct app to pay for my ride. I found that a little confusing. I put some money on the app and was ready to get on the bus.

We got underway right on time, but the bus was nearly empty except for me and the photographer, Troy. In fact, there were no other riders on that bus the entire half hour we were on that route. This illustrates why people believe there's a lack of demand or just awareness for public transportation in the area.

As far as the bus itself, it was very clean. That's because we were on one of the new electric buses that VRT just bought. Which means it's also using cleaner fuel as well.

We hit the halftime of our trip, changing buses at the Boise Towne Square Mall. We had a five-minute wait and then I managed the very simple task of changing buses. We got underway, on time again and were joined by a lot more riders.

One of those riders was Micah McDonald, an Idaho native. 

"I ride the bus probably anywhere from three to five times a week… I like it," McDonald said. "I definitely think certain buses need to come a little more often, or at least should come after a certain time when they stop running."

And while the bus works for him most of the time, he understands why it doesn't work for others, like me. I have to be to work by 4:00 a.m. and my bus doesn't even run until 7:10 a.m. So, while my trip provides a good comparison, it's just not an option for me.

McDonald said, "it doesn't come frequently, and a lot of people have just kind of taken to using their cars for everything."

We said goodbye to Micah as we arrived at our final stop, but not our destination. We still had about a five-minute walk to the station, or rather, it would’ve been five minutes if there was a crosswalk between our stop and the KTVB station.

Instead, we had to backtrack, cross Fairview at the crosswalk, go all the way down, cross again, and then backtrack again. That added another 15 minutes of walking to our trip.

Let’s compare the bus commute to driving alone to work.

We’ll start with cost; a one-year bus pass is $282. AAA estimates the annual cost of owning and driving a car is over $9,000. Taking the bus wins the cost category, easily.

Regarding the time commitment, even with traffic, it would take me 15 minutes to drive to work. After walking and riding the bus, it took me almost an hour to get to the station. Driving alone wins the time category going away.

Convenience. This is tough because it's convenient to hop in the car in my garage and head to work, but much less so if the weather is awful or if I get stuck in a traffic jam. On the other hand, it was pretty convenient to let someone else drive me while I got some work done, but less so walking to and from the stops and changing buses.

I'm going to call this one a tie because it depends really on what you think is most convenient.

Finally, access. I have no trouble accessing my own car and parking right in front of my work. However, even though there's a bus stop five minutes away, most folks in the Valley don't have a stop that close and my bus doesn't run when I need it to.

So, driving alone takes the access category.

For me, and most folks in the Valley, we're driving alone to work, because it's the best or only option.

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