PRIDE service lower than expected after a year

Sitting in the shade of the Carson Nugget on Robinson Street, Carson City resident Pat Tower read a book while waiting for her bus to Reno to arrive.

As a bus pulled up, she and fellow rider Dolores Snyder note the driver is "the nice one."

A frequent patron of the Public Rural Ride program, Tower lauds the bus service for its convenience and safety. She used to drive to Reno often for shopping and other errands "and prayed that I would not hit construction and that I could find a parking space."

"I enjoy the bus," she said. "It's more economical. The drivers are friendly, and it's safe. You can go to Reno and you don't have to worry about parking or traffic. For my mind and physical energy and nerves, it's far worth it. You can't beat it."

But there aren't as many people like Tower lining up to ride PRIDE as transportation officials hoped when they started the service a year ago.

David Jickling, acting planning director for the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission, said while there are people to serve with the bus service between the two cities, convincing drivers it's cheaper to use public transit has been the challenge.

Ridership is low enough that Jickling said Washoe County RTC staff are looking at cutting some of the least-used routes in the fall.

"We're carrying over 1,000 a week," Jickling said. "Overall, we were hoping we would be further along ridership wise than we are. We met expectations as for what we budgeted, but we budgeted for what we thought was a conservative number. It's disappointing that we're not carrying more people than that."

Jickling said Washoe County RTC officials had hoped to see nearly double the amount of riders on the 10 daily trips between Reno and the capital.

"It's got us a little concerned," he said. "We're going to be looking at this service, how we might make some modifications. We're looking at trips that aren't carrying anybody. We could take the resources from those trips and move them over to times of days where we are carrying people."

Weekend trips from Carson City to the Reno/Tahoe International Airport have posted disappointed numbers as well, Jickling said. They could be the first trips trimmed if RTC officials in Washoe and Carson decide to change the service.

Jickling said the service has a number of loyal riders. However, Carson City's lack of a fixed transit system may be a problem for riders coming to Carson who have no other way to get around except their feet or transit.

For Carson City riders heading to Reno, it's not always convenient to walk or call Carson City Community Transportation for a ride.

The state PRIDE program is funded with $840,000 in federal funds for two years whether people use the system or not.

Sandi Stanio, state transit planner, said the state is working on securing funding to continue the program after next year. However, because Carson City will become a metropolitan planning agency, the city will no longer be eligible for rural transit funds. Money should be available from other federal and state pots for transit, Stanio said.

Two months after it started operation, bus service along Highway 50 and 50A between Fallon, Fernley and Carson City has had more than 3,000 riders.

Riders have been riding free, though, which will end in September.

Stanio said the service is drawing "far more than they thought they would."

About 100 people per day are using the service, which runs between Fernley and Fallon, and Fallon and Carson City, with connector buses between Fernley and Yerington. About 200 ride the bus daily between the much larger populations of Reno and Carson.

Jickling said RTC officials will spend the next year examining the system and how it could best run after the federal funding runs out.

"I believe service between Carson City and Reno makes sense," he said. "You have to grow those services. What we have on the street today is what, I believe, is more service than is necessary. We can design a system between the two to make that cost effective. The challenge is it will take more than two years."


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