City considers new JAC transit center

JAC buses lined up on North Plaza Street on July 12.

JAC buses lined up on North Plaza Street on July 12.
Photo by Scott Neuffer.

With Jump Around Carson ridership showing a tentative rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic, city transportation leaders are taking short-terms steps to improve the JAC transfer center downtown while also considering long-term ideas for a new transit center.

On July 12, members of the Regional Transportation Commission heard a presentation regarding a feasibility study for a new center on North Plaza Street, between East Robinson and East Washington streets, just north of the Carson Nugget. They authorized transportation staff to pursue some short-term improvements to the existing transfer station while weighing a larger conceptual plan for the site.

In 2021, the RTC contracted with LSC Transportation Consultants for $60,000 to develop the feasibility study, with half the cost reimbursable through the U.S. Federal Transit Administration. The firm explored other nearby sites, including the historic V&T Railroad station owned by the Masonic Lodge, but recommended renovating the existing site on North Plaza. Presently, the transfer center has two covered wait shelters, benches, a bike rack and enough curbside for up to six JAC vehicles, according to LSC. The site is used to facilitate connections to the Tahoe Transportation District, the Washoe Regional Transportation connecting service and the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority.

“At present, up to four JAC buses are at the plaza at peak times (at 30 minutes past each hour). Up to approximately 40 passengers can be waiting for buses at peak times,” reads the feasibility study.

Transportation Manager Chris Martinovich told the Appeal the current site — as is — has several deficiencies.

“There is insufficient protection from the elements,” he said. “In particular, the west-facing shelters lack adequate seating capacity for peak waiting loads. There is little to no shade in the late afternoon on hot summer days and minimal protection from the wind-driven rain and snow in winter.”

Because of inadequate seating, passengers are tempted to wait in the landscaping areas of the federal government building on the east side of North Plaza, Martinovich said.

“Lighting is limited to two streetlights and low lighting in the shelters,” he said. “As a result, passengers are often boarding and alighting in dark locations, adding to safety concerns.”

Martinovich added there is no restroom for drivers or passengers and no wayfinding or system information.

“Most of these can be addressed by the short-term recommendation,” he said.

That recommendation calls for small-scale improvements as soon as 2025 at an estimated cost of $234,000, which includes $100,000 allocated from the city’s redevelopment authority. Short-term improvements might include new or modified shelters to increase shade area, a fence along the property line of the federal building, new signs for route and system information, ADA compliance for sidewalks and curb ramps, lighting and street repairs.

The long-term plan proposed by LSC would cost an estimated $3.4 million and would include converting North Plaza to a one-way, northbound street to make room for a parking lane and a 1,450-square-foot building. The structure would provide passenger waiting space, restrooms, a JAC counter and operational and custodial space.

The long-term plan is just a proposal, though the city could go after federal dollars in the future, Martinovich said.

Citing a four-month dip in taxable sales — crucial revenue for the city — Mayor Lori Bagwell expressed concerns about available capital improvement funding. She explained how the long-term proposal for the site could be explored in a Board of Supervisors retreat.

“I think this is a wonderful report and a great baseline document to discuss in the retreat,” she told fellow RTC members July 12.

“Larger discussions with JAC need to occur especially as they relate to maintenance costs as well as continued redevelopment in the area,” Martinovich told the Appeal. “As result, over time we may find other locations or other existing buildings that are better suited for a long-term location with opportunities for shared costs and responsibilities.”

The discussion of JAC’s future arrives after a year-over-year bounce in JAC ridership. Martinovich said fiscal year 2020 saw 166,286 passengers, or boardings, for fixed-route service. In fiscal year 2021, amidst the pandemic, that number dropped to 132,760. Fiscal year 2022 saw a recovery with 168,519 passengers. That number is slightly below the pre-pandemic level for fiscal year 2019, which saw 175,184 passengers, according to LSC. Ridership was declining before the pandemic, but LSC said the post-pandemic trend shows “the system’s ability to recover and demonstrates a continued need for public transit in the region.”

LSC projects a new transit center would increase ridership by 7,000 passengers per year.

“The big picture is there is a lot of potential change in that area (North Plaza), so there is a lot of continued coordination with adjacent property owners that I think could be valuable over the long term,” Martinovich told RTC members July 12.

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