Among the local dignitaries who came to the new transfer station at Center and Liberty streets to tout the efforts at improving local bus transportation was Mayor Geno Martini, who hinted at the county’s plans that could bring a similar service to Sparks via the Fourth Street/Prater Way corridor.
“This is a really good day for transit,” Martini said, standing on the platform of the new station next door to the new Nevada Discovery Museum. “We’re very happy in Sparks that RAPID transit will be coming very soon.”
Soon is a relative term, as RTC planners are still studying what such service would look like and how to pay for it. The hope is for it to mirror what the RTC has done in Reno.
Implemented in October 2009, RTC RAPID uses six or seven 40-foot buses at a time to give riders a faster way to get up and down Virginia Street, the main thoroughfare in Reno. These buses run parallel to regular buses on the corridor, running every 10 minutes and making seven stops in each direction instead of 24. The need for the service, according to RTC project manager David Jickling, was determined by the fact that 40 percent of riders in the area, the system’s busiest, were traveling from one end to the other without stopping. Since RAPID began, it and regular bus service along Virginia Street have more than 4.3 million riders, amounting to an average of 5,300 passenger trips per weekday.
The RAPID service received a federal money for three years, which means local fuel tax dollars will begin picking up the tab in October.
The addition to the service celebrated on Tuesday includes 14 new stations using electronic ticket machines, boarding platforms that are level with the bus, electronic displays showing the arrival time of the next bus and sleeker overall design. Six stations were completed in December with ticket machines, electronic displays and art installations finished this month. Also this month, two more full-size stations and six enhanced stations were completed. Total cost with design, construction and artwork installations was $5.8 million, most of which came from the federal government.
Also on Tuesday, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff gave local transit officials more money: a $5.1 million grant check to help buy 10 new gas-electric hybrid buses to replace diesel buses currently in use and to build a new fueling station. Not only will these buses improve service, Rogoff said, they will also help the area environmentally with cleaner air.
“This is one of many measures we hope to take to help with the economic recovery that this area needs so badly,” he said.
Rogoff also asked local officials and residents to encourage the House of Representatives in Washington to support a long-term funding bill for transportation that has recently passed the Senate with the support of Nevada’s Harry Reid. RTC Executive Director Lee Gibson echoed Rogoff’s sentiment, saying that the lack of long-term funding prevents Nevada from moving forward with highway, road and other projects — impeding not just transit but employment opportunities.
“(Lack of funding) denies the state’s economy the advantage of enhanced transportation system,” Gibson said.
The RTC has identified the Fourth Street/Prater Way corridor as another potential home for a system similar to RAPID. Amy Cummings, director of planning for RTC, said the five routes that operate along the corridor have a combined daily ridership of 4,500 — one of the system’s highest. Ridership on one of the routes, Route 11, increased 12.2 percent in the last year, she said. The population of the area in 2010 was 130,000 and one quarter of the residents were younger than 20 and another quarter age 55 and older, Cummings said.