A conversation with a woman on a Lewiston Transit bus three years ago launched an ongoing quest for now 25-year-old Maliik Prior, of Clarkston.
They agreed more transit routes and longer hours of operation would serve the community better, and Prior remembers the woman’s words: “You should write up a petition about it.”
Now, he rarely goes anywhere without his clipboard.
His first petition, delivered in 2019 to the Lewiston City Council, had more than 1,200 signatures. He collected 2,466 signatures — a number that still rolls off his tongue — in his second attempt at submitting a petition, which he presented to the Lewiston and Clarkston city councils.
He’s learned a lot since then, he said, including that his forms should have spaces not just for signatures, but for printed names, addresses and phone numbers.
He has about 1,900 signatures so far this go-round, which he plans to submit to the Lewiston City Council, Asotin County and Nez Perce Tribe.
The tribe’s Appaloosa Express, which provides transportation on the Nez Perce Reservation with routes in the Kooskia/Kamiah/Orofino and Culdesac/Lapwai/Lewiston areas could be a link to rural areas if it expanded and cooperated with the transit systems in Lewiston and Clarkston, Prior said.
His goal is “trying to make it easy enough so those who don’t have a car or don’t want to drive have as much freedom as those who do drive.”
He uses a combination of buses, a taxi service and rides from people he knows to get from his home in the Clarkston Heights to his home health aide job in Lewiston, since he doesn’t drive.
He’s been told more people would need to use the Lewiston Transit System and Asotin County Public Transportation Benefit Area buses before more hours and more stops could be added. That’s frustrating, he said, since the lack of those things is why he thinks many people don’t use them more.
“There’s a difference (between) if you really try to make something happen and saying something as an excuse to not make it happen,” he said.
Lewiston’s city government has changed since Prior last took a petition to the city council, with a strong-mayor system replacing the former councilor-manager system last year.
Mayor Dan Johnson said he’s familiar with Prior’s requests, and while change certainly won’t come quickly, public transportation is one of many issues in his sights.
“We’re probably always going to be challenged a little bit with funding,” Johnson said, citing that as a significant barrier to expanding routes.
Still, he’s open to thinking about how expanded public transportation could look in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
He met last week with representatives from the Boise-based Idaho Walk Bike Alliance, who are promoting “active transportation” options in Idaho communities, he said.
The active transportation model embraces a multifaceted commute that might include walking or cycling to or from bus stops or between routes, “so there’s really a kind of community health aspect to it,” Johnson said.
“In the bigger cities you see more of that, and certainly it’s a possibility here too,” he said.
Prior said he wants routes to be expanded and to run more frequently, and later. Ideally, he said, buses would run 24/7.
Though he often gets rides from friends or acquaintances, “it would still just be nice to have the bus to depend on.”
The community should be as accessible to a nondriver as to a driver, he said, no matter why a person doesn’t drive. And public transit should be the answer.
“I’m trying to make that a lot more dependable,” he said. “I just know it would definitely help tons and tons more people.”
That includes elderly people who no longer drive, disabled people who can’t or choose not to drive, young people who don’t yet have a driver’s license, people who can’t afford a vehicle, people with DUIs or other legal reasons that prohibit them from driving — the list goes on.
Johnson recounted his experience several years ago when he often took a Lewiston Transit System bus to visit his now-wife, Jean. He lived on Normal Hill, and she lived in the Lewiston Orchards. He walked several blocks to the bus stops nearest his home and hers, and had to make sure he left in time to catch the last bus home.
Seeing people like Prior bring issues to public servants’ attention heartens him, he said.
“For me I think it’s empowering, and it's nice to see when individuals are willing to put the effort in to try to achieve what it is they feel so passionate about,” he said. “I think it’s very exciting and motivating.”
As for Prior, his devotion to the public transportation cause might motivate him to seek a local government committee seat or elected office one day.
“People have told me I should become a politician just for that reason,” he said.Stone (she/her) can be reached at email@example.com.
Can you help? For those who would like to sign the petition, Prior can be reached at (509) 254-1967.