Routes 2, 3, 4: The stop at the airport has moved to the general public traffic lanes on the lower loop of Airport Way. The stop is located from pillar 14 to pillar 17 at the end of the arrivals pick up lanes
Get to know the CEO
Boise, buses, & board games!
VRT’s new CEO, Elaine Clegg, started mid-February, and we sat down with her to ask a few questions about her background, vision, and what the region can expect in the years to come. Read below as she discusses Boise, buses, board games, and more!
When did you start getting into transportation?
I’ve always been interested in transportation. My mother didn’t drive until she was in her 40s and growing up my sister and I used the bus, rode bikes, and walked. That was just how we got around. I learned early on about all the different transportation choices, and for me it was about freedom. When I was young, I looked for different ways to travel so I wasn’t dependent on my parents to take me places. When I was in college, I mostly rode my bike and the bus. When my husband and I bought a house, we chose one in a walkable and bikeable area, close to transit, so we didn’t only have to get in the car. I realized at a young age I wanted my kids to walk to school, so we organized a little walking group in the neighborhood, much like what you see in Walking School Buses. So I’ve always been interested in figuring out how to build options into the system in a better way, which led very naturally to public service.
When did public service begin for you?
It all started with my own neighborhood and community, and I saw a need and opportunity to serve in a larger way. I’ve done a lot of different things for the public good. I’ve been working in transportation, either as an advocate or a professional, for the last 25 years. I’ve been on the VRT Board and Executive Board, advisory committees and councils, and led a nonprofit, Idaho Smart Growth, to advocate and plan for better transportation systems. With Smart Growth, we did a variety of transportation projects including improving biking and walking, siting bus stops, routing, wayfinding systems, and public outreach. The more I got involved in transportation, the more convinced I became that we have a fragile transportation system and if we don’t fix it we’re doomed to repeat all the mistakes a lot of other regions have made. I love the Treasure Valley, and I don’t want to see that happen.
What excites you about stepping into this position?
All of it! This is a moment in time when this valley – this region – really has an opportunity to change how people move around and how we grow in the future. Our cities have been growing, which is a two-sided coin – if you build grow and build cities and services, you also want to be careful about how we spread out. Too much spread makes it difficult and expensive to provide public services – from transportation to utilities to parks to emergency services – and it’s critical that this region continues to preserve working lands and wildlands that are so important to who we are as a region. While our cities grow, it’s important that we build cities that people want to be in, cities that are thriving and vibrant and attractive, while preserving the areas that need to be preserved. Transit is a very important part of a well-functioning city. Transit creates connections between places people want to go and reduces congestion, emissions, and cost for everyone in the community. So, I’m excited about this moment when all those changes can occur and have a massive impact on what this region can become.
What opportunities do you see for transportation in the region?
I think the timing for transportation improvements is perfect. The region has grown so much, and due to that we’re starting to experience what it feels like to live in a big, congested city. We have an opportunity to show folks that the way to solve this isn’t to just build more, wider, faster roads, but to focus on what people need and offer more choices in how they move around. I think we have a great opportunity to build regional connections, hopefully on a rail corridor that connects cities in the valley to each other and connects our region to other regions – intercity and intracity. Robust bus, walking, biking, and rolling networks with good first/last mile connections can allow people to live and work in a community without having to drive if they don’t want to. At the same time, it can give you access to move around the valley and between cities. That’s a tremendous opportunity.
What we’ve been missing here is that public transit has been so poorly funded that we haven’t been able to make it an attractive, convenient choice. It’s like if a restaurant owner has a shop open a few hours a day, offers a small selection of dishes, and wonders why they can’t get any business. That’s where our funding levels have been. We have an opportunity to grow our funding so we can show the Treasure Valley what life can be like with a great public transit network. I want to be sure that we serve the people that currently ride very well and build a system with enough choices and opportunities to move around the way they want.
What challenges do you see ahead?
The VRT system has done well given the resources it works with. But we can’t keep up with growth because there’s not a structure to increase funding as the region grows. We know that the region needs about four times the amount of funding we have today to offer the service of peer cities and keep up with the demand we hear from the community. Regional transportation authorities are a “political subdivision” of the state government, and the they are the only ones that don’t have a dedicated funding source through state statute. That leaves us dependent on voluntary contributions from cities and counties in the valley to operate transportation, and the services in each city reflects those contributions. It’s a challenge for the cities too, because they have to consider other needs – police, fire, parks and many other services – when deciding what to prioritize. This model doesn’t work – it’s not sustainable. Other subdivisions have funding because it is necessary to sustain the work. We hope to find a way to apply that to public transit. So, I see two challenges: One, how we attract more funding, and two, how we attract people with our current service. We have to build a better transportation network so we can attract more funding and we need more funding to build a better transportation network. Can we turn that into a virtuous circle instead of a vicious cycle?
What can the region expect from you, and from VRT, in the coming weeks, months, and years?
Well, I’m impatient so you can expect me to try to move things along quickly. This can be hard to do in government, but I remain impatient for progress. I like to work with partners, and I’m working to build partnerships that will work with us to make this happen. I’m also driven by vision – I want to work with partners and communities to build a system we can agree on to make this a better place to live. And it’s not just about making VRT the king of the hill, but about making this valley a better place to live for everyone. If we have a better and more robust transit system, it will be one piece of that puzzle. We’ll be looking to the community to help us build the vision, and we at VRT will continue to improve everything we do – how we talk about services, ways people interact with services, the ways the service is organized, and more. When we are successful, it will be together, and all of these things will make this a more successful system that will improve the quality of life for everyone, whether you ride the bus or not.
How do you prefer to travel around the valley?
I just got an electric bike, and I love it. Whenever I get the chance to ride, I do! I love the range it gives me. I also love to walk, ride my regular bike, and ride the bus. I will ride the bus more now that I have a longer regular trip and there is a route that serves that trip. I also love to drive – I have a lovely little car that I like to take when I need it and it great on trips. What I don’t like about driving is having to do it all the time. It’s important that everyone has the choice to move around how they want. I like to have different choices so I can decide what the best option is for my trips, and not have that decided for me based on what options are currently available, whether that’s bike lanes, bus routes, or roads.
What is one thing about you that people might be surprised by?
I have five kids and, soon, 14 grandkids. I played basketball in the Sweet 16 for Boise State. It was an incredible experience that has informed the way I live. I’m also an artist – I love watercolor, acrylics, sculpture, jewelry… you name the artistic medium, I like it!
What do you like to do to unwind?
I love to spend time with my family. We love board games – we have a growing collection, and we’re now up to 218 board games. I also love to travel and camp and explore all of the great public spaces, both close to home and further away. I’m also a huge Boise State sports fan. I don’t play much anymore, but we watch a lot.