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State studies regional transportation proposal

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County Senior Services Supervisor Kathy Maidlow doesn’t need a survey to prove there’s a demand for public transportation.

“We get calls all the time from people who are under 60 needing transportation,” she said. “A lot of disabled people need to get to work. We had one mother call asking if we could take her to Reno because her baby was in the hospital, and she needed to breastfeed.”

More than 200 people a year depend on the senior center for rides to medical appointments, shopping, recreational events and the center itself. The seven part-time drivers who work for the center stay busy ferrying them around Douglas County, to Carson City and even up to Reno, but some requests are denied, either because the riders aren’t senior citizens or demand is too high. Medical appointments get priority.

Maidlow is encouraged by a state-led effort that could bring mass transit to all of northern Nevada, including Douglas County. She is Douglas County’s representative on a new task force that will begin evaluating the demand for public transportation.

Statewide Transit Coordinator Sandi McGrew is enthusiastic about the program, which calls for the addition of bus routes linking towns and cities around the region. The service would complement existing local programs, such as the rides Douglas provides. But it would also be available to everyone, and fares would be charged.

“This is very much a grass-roots project,” said McGrew. “What we don’t want to be is a federal or state program. It’s for the counties. We want their cooperation. We want their support.”

n Survey. Before any buses hit the road, the task force will take a survey asking residents around the region what they want, what they would use, why and when they would use it and how much they would be willing to pay.

“We know the need is out there. We now have some monies, and we would like to combine the need and the money,” said McGrew. “Even if (respondents) don’t think they’d ever use it, we need to know that.”

Several state and federal grants have been secured that can be used to pay for the first two years of the service. Still, McGrew notes the counties are leery of supporting a program that they might later be asked to fund, as do Maidlow and Douglas County Manager Dan Holler.

“We definitely like the concept,” said Holler. “But our concern is if you start a full-blown transit system, how do you fund it after the grant money is gone?”

Plus, Douglas would probably need to pay for increased administrative duties and a possible increase in local riders who would need transportation from their neighborhoods to local bus stops and pickup points.

Still, they are optimistic about the advantages of an enhanced transit system.

“Sometimes we only have one or two people who need to go to Reno. There’s no reason why we couldn’t pick someone up in Carson City” if the system is expanded, said Maidlow. “If the funding is available, the rest will fall into place.”

The task force will hold its first meeting on Monday. McGrew said the survey is expected to be taken in September, followed by community meetings to gather public comment.

“We plan to start small,” she said. “We’re not going to go out and just throw stuff on the road. If we don’t fill the buses, there’s no reason to operate them.

“What we’re really hoping is that the program will be up and running in two years, and people will support it. We hope to report (to the 2001 state Legislature) that it worked.”