Should Bozeman Follow Houston's Transit Revamp?
Updated: Aug 17, 2019
I recently joined with other Streamline supporters in asking Gallatin County to join with the City of Bozeman in providing $20,000 in match funding to help Streamline hire a consultant to update our transit route network. Here’s why:
Transit serves an essential role in the community. For many, it serves as an affordable means of transportation. As this community grapples with an affordability crisis, this matters. AAA estimates that enabling a family to live with one car instead of two puts $8000 back into the family budget for other essentials. For a few, Streamline and Gallavan provide lifeline transportation—the only way to reach the doctor’s office or the grocery store for a gallon of milk. For everyone in Gallatin Valley—even those who never ride—Streamline reduces traffic congestion and improves air quality, and provides a backup if other transportation options fail.
This is why I’ve asked the county carve out $20,000 from its budget to support Streamline in hiring a consultant to give our system a needed overhaul.
It's a reality that transit ridership is down across the United States right now. Even here in Gallatin County, Streamline's ridership is flat for the first time, even as our population is growing.
Houston, Texas, is an anomaly. In Housing, ridership is currently growing, and it’s not because Houston is spending millions building light rail. No, it's because Houston recently redesigned their system. They took their existing assets and budget, and brought in a consultant to help them re-imagine a bus network that places more of an emphasis on providing frequent service on high-use corridors. And now, after years of declining ridership, Houston's bus system is once again growing.
Bozeman’s system is in need of an update. The system was designed ten years ago (by an ASMSU Senate colleague of mine while I was involved with MSU student government, as it happens). Our community has grown considerably since then, and it’s time to update our routes to meet our region’s needs for the next ten years. Which leads me to my second point:
Transportation is a regional issue. Some 19,000 county residents are commuting in to Bozeman each day, and 8000 are commuting out. An increasing number of people are locating in Belgrade, Four Corners, Manhattan and Three Forks and commuting in to Bozeman—and the requested funding would enable Streamline to consider these communities for future transit service.
Existing commute traffic is already straining our road capacity.
A few months ago, there was a traffic incident on I-90, West Bound, near the airport exit, bringing the west bound interstate to a standstill for an hour or more. Imagine being there, rushing home from work in Bozeman to pick up your kids from daycare, stuck on the Interstate and watching your pick-up time tick by.
I work as a transportation planner, primarily with more urban states, and I can tell you that as our population grows, scenes like this, with hundreds of people stranded on our roads waiting in bored or anxious agony, are only going to become more common.
Let me describe a different commute scene. When the 6 pm Streamline bus arrives in Belgrade from Bozeman, it's a delight to observe the way that the busload of riders disperse—many have a spouse waiting for them, ready to drive them home. A few take their bikes off the front of the bus and ride off into the night. Others walk, or take the cars they've parked there. It’s the sort of thing that makes you glad to be part of a community.
By supporting Streamline, Gallatin County will be supporting a future in which there are fewer evenings spent pulling one's hair out in I-90 watching the time tick by when you're supposed to be picking up your kid form daycare, and more idyllic returns from work—residents of Manhattan getting off a bus where they've just spent 30 minutes reading a book, to be greeted by a loved one at the end of the day.
Achieving that future starts with a plan, and that's what Gallatin County has been asked to provide funds for. For the amount of money it costs to maintain one mile of county road, we can plan a better regional transit system. If we invest in our transit system it will succeed, and when transit succeeds everyone benefits whether they ride transit or not.