Can You Get There From Here? Northern NV Public Transportation

Reno Bus


There are many things one can find online, but there are also some topics which are difficult to research in Nevada using online sources. For example, how do members of the public research and evaluate the operational effectiveness of the Reno Transit Commission?

For example, according to the RTC every $1 billion in annual transportation expenditure yields a $3.6 billion sales boost, and supports approximately 36,000 jobs. [RTC] Of course, what we don’t know is whether these numbers are national averages or local figures.  The local numbers appear in the annual report (pdf 2013) for the fixed route transit system.

Ridership is recorded as 8,096,298 for FY 2013, with 240,643 para-transit rides, or 22,182 rides (631 para-transit) per day.  If we use the 2013 Census projections of 233,294 for Reno, and another 93,282 for Sparks, NV we have 326,576 residents of the Reno/Sparks cities who ride the buses at a 22,182 rate per day; or, about 7% of the local combined populations.  The goal is to have a system wide average of 30 passengers per service hour, the current rate is reported at 32.4.

As with too many public transit programs, the RTC can’t rely on fares for its total operating expenditures. RTC fares generate about 4.1% of total revenues, the bulk of which (48%) come from revenue bonds.  A note of caution should attend these numbers because the RTC is also heavily involved in street improvements, and alternative transport (bicycle route) infrastructure.

There is much to be gleaned from annual reports, but more might expected when the RTC operating statistics are available beyond those from 2010. (pdf)

It would also be interesting to access information coming from members of the Reno/Sparks community — granted that bus routes from various neighborhoods to local retail centers is highly desirable, but do the routes also facilitate transport from those neighborhoods to other place people need to go — for medical, legal, or other services?

Do ridership trends indicate a need to enhance routes between other areas, such as Carson City, Fernley, Gardnerville, and Incline? Do those ridership trends in the immediate Reno/Sparks area continue the downward lines illustrated in the 2010 statistics?

How do the RTC plans conform to the population trends in the area?  The 2010 Washoe County planning document estimates an increase in the number of residents over the age of 65 to increase from 12% (2010) to 17% by 2030, or just under 100,000 people.  According to the Census Bureau the figure has already hit 14%.

Finally, how does the RTC address the one issue which a recent study from the University of California found to be of singular importance to public transit riders — timeliness. Passengers were willing to endure overcrowding on smaller vehicles and willing to take longer routes, IF the result were trains and buses which ran on time, or more specifically had less than a ten minute delay. Technology didn’t seem to help ameliorate this issue because those who have smartphones or gadgets to keep track of bus operations were those less likely to use the buses in the first place. The article posits the ridership is reduced because people know of the delays, it could also be because those who can afford smartphones are less likely to be taking a bus in the first place.  [Governing]

Public transportation can make a city.  Imagining New York or Washington, D.C. without the subway or the Metro is inconceivable. However, the idea is often poorly translated to mid-major cities, all too often tied to retail shopping centers, and behind the sprawl curve.  It will be interesting to see what the 2015 report reveals about the Reno Transport Commission’s efforts, and if northern Nevada can set its goals higher in terms of congestion reduction and ridership increases.

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