The state is coming closer to taking Nevada residents on a statewide ride.
A new transit program has been in planning stages since earlier this spring, and state transit officials hope to see the service in operation by February.
The Nevada Department of Transportation is preparing to finalize routes and costs for a transit system that will connect Carson City to Douglas, Washoe, Storey and Lyon counties. Other systems are being set up throughout the state, another main route being planned between Reno, Fernley, Fallon and Lovelock.
When the transit system opens, the service will enable small urban and rural residents to access health care, shopping, employment, recreation and other public services.
Sandi McGrew, NDOT's statewide transit coordinator, said the state received $840,000 federal money to be used over two years as part of the federal welfare to work program. The transit system will be open to everyone even though one of its main purposes will be to help those without transportation get to an area where they can find work.
Surveys mailed to thousands of Northern Nevada residents over the summer indicate that around 500 people would use the service in what is being called the Highway 395/Highway 50 corridor.
A resident task force has been working on creating the routes and the multi-jurisdictional approach is the challenge to getting the system set up, McGrew said.
"We have a lot of things we have to cover," she said. "I don't want this to fail. When it's up and running, we want it to be up and running. We know there is a need for this. This is connecting people to the outside world."
McGrew is coordinating with several state agencies as well as city and county agencies to make the program work.
Kathleen Maidlow, supervisor of Douglas County Senior Services, is on the transit task force. She said so many people have a lack of transportation that the inter-county system would make sense for all people, not just seniors and disabled who traditionally need public transportation.
"We know we're not going to get the die-hard people out of their cars," McGrew said. "You're not going to get people out of their cars unless its convenient and affordable."
As an example of how the program would work, McGrew points to the Douglas County to Reno route. The transit committee is looking at stops at the Ironwood Mall and Target in Minden as potential drop off and pick up points. With advance notice, Senior Services would provide rides to the drop off points for those who don't want to park their cars. Express buses would leave early enough in the morning five days a week to get pick up Carson residents at several locations along Carson Street before heading to Reno. The idea would be to have workers in Reno connecting with Reno public transportation before 8 a.m. Buses would head back the same way in the evening and an afternoon bus would be scheduled as well. Local transit systems would work to get people to the buses on either a dial-a-ride concept or with the creation of fixed route schedules within each town. The cost will probably be $3 each way.
Some Reno to Carson City commuters support the idea.
Bill Reinhard, the administrative services officer at the secretary of state's office, said he sees a huge need for transit between the two communities.
"I have an interest in having somebody chauffeur me to work each day," Reinhard said. "I have work I could be doing during the 45 minute commute. I have no idea if there is an appetite for this, but I'm hungry for it."
Sharon Colwell from the governors office is a five-year veteran of the Reno to Carson City commute.
"I know there are probably lots of people like me who don't enjoy the winter driving and would benefit from the bus service," Colwell said. "The Carson commute is kind of time-consuming, and it would relieve congestion on Highway 395. It would be a nice way to sit back, relax and visit with people you don't know."
Silver Springs would be a hub for the Lyon County to Carson City connection. Routes to Lake Tahoe via both Spooner Summit and Kingsbury grade, Virginia City and Fernley are planned as well.
McGrew said another challenge will be teaching people how to use the service once its running.
"We're putting the system together to be user friendly, but we'll need to teach people how to use this," McGrew said. "We'll offer travel training to let people know how to ride the bus. Rural Nevadan's have never had anything like this. It's completely foreign to them."
Some of the federal and state transit money has been put to use in Elko and Fallon. The system in Elko is already moving 300 people a week, a huge success McGrew said. McGrew said she'd like to see people be able to get on a bus in Minden and go to Wendover if they wanted to. The catch to the program is that while the state is footing the bill now, the funding for the program is only available until 2001. State transit funding jumped from $450,000 last year to around $1.5 million this year. The new transit systems are being created with the money, but legislators, cities and counties will have to decide on funding to keep the system running after 2001.
" Nevada is a show me state even if it's not Missouri," McGrew said. "This program is for two years only. After two years, we'll report to the legislature and hope they continue funding for it. We hope counties and cities will find they can't live without it."