RTC Executive Director Lee Gibson says public transit ridership has increased dramatically in recent years, which he attributes to improvements the RTC has made to the transit system, along with a simple demand for cheap transportation in a depressed economy.
“We are beating the economy,” Gibson said during a speech in front of RTC’s Fourth Street Station Thursday morning. “We should all celebrate that.”
According to RTC board chairman and Sparks City Councilman Ron Smith, in the last 12 months RTC has provided close to 8 million rides — a 3 percent increase from the previous 12 months, he said. Overall, ridership is up 7 percent and use of RAPID transit has increased more than 16 percent.
In order to continue providing transportation at the lowest possible cost to the rider, RTC recently struck a deal with MV Transportation that will translate to $8 million in savings during the next four years. MV Transportation took over operations of RTC RIDE, Intercity, Sierra Spirit, Connect and Rapid systems as of July 1.
“The savings allow RTC to continue providing the same level of service to the community and may be enough to avoid projected service reductions in the future,” Gibson said.
MV Transportation was selected after a careful review process. The company serves as a private contractor to the RTC and employs all drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and supervisors operating transit services.
Dennis Jackson, regional vice president of MV Transportation, said he takes his responsibility seriously and considers the riders in every decision he makes.
“My son that lives in Denver is transit-dependent,” Jackson said. “If that bus is late, he is late for work … every decision I make, I remember that.”
Gibson said the RTC soon will be adding 14 new bus stations and additional routes.
“Our Intercity service to Carson City has been standing room only lately,” he said. “We will be adding another trip every morning to meet the needs of our customers … That starts on Monday. We’re responding to your needs as a transit operator.”
A woman named Sharon, who declined to give her last name, said she has been riding buses in Washoe County since 1973 and that she has seen improvements in the number of routes over the years. As a resident of Lemmon Valley, Sharon said riding the bus to and from downtown is the most affordable means of transportation for her.
Though she has noticed improvements, Sharon said she believes areas still exist where RTC could improve.
“Some drivers are not really customer friendly,” she said, “and some routes don’t really take you where you need to go. They drop you off six blocks from where you need to be.”
Sharon said she rides the bus to the grocery store and often is hassled about boarding with her small cart of groceries.
“I have a little cart that rolls because when you go to the grocery store, that stuff is heavy,” she said, adding she does not understand why her little grocery cart is a problem but others are allowed to board with items such as suitcases.
In all, she said, riding the bus is a favorable experience.
Another rider, Virginia Olson, shared Sharon’s sentiments about public transit as an affordable way to travel. Olson also lives in Lemmon Valley and recently began riding the bus to school at Career College of Northern Nevada in Sparks.
“I plan to keep riding until I am done with school,” Olson said. “It helps with the cost of transportation because I live so far out there.”
Olson said she bought a 10-ride pass for $17.
Smith said public transit benefits the entire community by reducing the number of vehicles on the road and air pollution. He hopes individuals who have not tried using the transit system will give it a chance.
“We encourage non-riders to try transit,” Smith said.