Will public transit return to Lyon County?

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal RSVP driver Bill Fehr helps Elizabeth Mackey out of a van Wednesday morning in North Carson City. The volunteer program provides transportation service to Dayton seniors.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal RSVP driver Bill Fehr helps Elizabeth Mackey out of a van Wednesday morning in North Carson City. The volunteer program provides transportation service to Dayton seniors.

After Public Rural Ride (PRIDE) canceled its Lyon County-Carson City bus service, Dayton resident Joanne Fabian, 77, had to rely on friends and RSVP - a volunteer group that provides transportation for seniors - to make her doctor's appointments, go shopping, and visit the cemetery in Carson City where her husband and son are buried.

"I've had six eye surgeries so I can't drive," Fabian said. "I hate to ask my friends" - most of whom live in Carson City - "to come all the way out to Dayton and back to give me a ride."

A new bill before the state Senate would give rural transportation a much-needed shot in the arm. SB440, introduced by Sen. Dina Titus D-Las Vegas, would earmark $761,000 for rural transportation.

PRIDE discontinued its Lyon County-Carson City bus route in November 2003 due to a lack of local matching funds, after operating for just two short years.

If passed, the bill would create a bus route between Fallon and Carson City with stops in Silver Springs, Stagecoach, Dayton and Mound House.

However, the state would grant the funding only if "matching money is provided by cities and counties."

That could be a tall order, according to Chuck Ricker, executive director of the Northern Nevada Transport Coalition and vice chairman of the State Advisory Committee for Transit.

"The cities and counties don't have that kind of money," said Ricker, who's proposed an amendment to the bill that would strike out the matching funds clause.

If senators approve the bill, the Department of Transportation would be entitled to an additional $1.5 million in federal matching funds to improve rural transit.

"That's not much to get seniors to their doctor's appointment or to get people to their jobs," Ricker said. "We do a lot of good with limited funds. We're not asking for much."

Nevada is one of only "six states that don't contribute to its own elderly and disabled transportation" funds, Ricker said.

Money isn't the only hurdle standing in the way of resuming bus service in Nevada's rural outposts.

"You have to have the right density to make it work," Lyon County Manager Donna Kristaponis said. "Why would you bother running empty buses? The big question about public transit is, how do you make it cost effective? The fare never completely covers the cost of running the system, so taxpayers have to subsidize it."

The bill would also purchase new buses for the state's 50 senior centers, which provide some of the only transportation for the elderly.

"A little money would go a long way," Ricker said. "A couple years ago, we had $750,000. Now after the cuts, we're down to servicing two cities in rural Northern Nevada, Elko and Ely. We lost Lyon County. We're really hurting."

Stagecoach resident Elizabeth Mackey, 78, who is legally blind and can't drive, relies on RSVP and county human services for transportation. But for residents under age 55 - who don't qualify for those services or don't own a car - hitchhiking and bumming a ride are the only options outside of calling a cab.

"That bothers me, not having public transit from Dayton to Carson City," said Judy Harris, the Dayton field representative for RSVP. "How do kids go to the movies in the summertime? People need to have some fun."

It also has unintended health consequences. "If people can't drive to a supermarket for produce and quality foods, they end up walking to a convenience store, where their options are limited," said Cristy McGill, director of the Healthy Communities Coalition, a Dayton-based nonprofit agency.

Residents agreed many improvements could be made over the PRIDE bus service from two years ago.

"The buses were too big," Harris said. "It wasn't cost effective when only six people were riding it. But the service didn't shut down because there wasn't a need for it. If you had smaller buses and better hours, you'd see a big jump in ridership."

"PRIDE was a good start," McGill said. "But it's difficult to get a mother of three to walk five miles from her house to the highway to catch a bus."

When PRIDE was still operating between Dayton and Carson City, the bus would drop Fabian off near the highway and pick her up four to six hours later. "It was fine for people commuting to work," Fabian said, but it left her virtually stranded in town.

The schedule isn't the only thing that could be improved. Fabian would also like to see the bus make more frequent stops.

Yet she concedes even a limited bus service is better than no service at all. "We're stymied out here. This area has many seniors. You have to service the people."

But increasing the frequency of stops and hours, Ricker said, would cost more money - money which the state and counties don't have. "It isn't ideal, but it's better than nothing."

n Contact reporter Dan Moreau at dmoreau@nevadaappeal.com or 887-2430 ext. 351.

Help wanted

The Lyon County

Transportation Advisory Board is accepting applications for new members. For

information or to request an application, call Healthy

Communities Coalition Director Cristy McGill at (775) 246-7550.


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