Residents love jumping on JAC |

Residents love jumping on JAC

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer
Rene Almanza, JAC rider

Residents using Jump Around Carson, the city’s fixed-route bus system, are glad to have it around.

“It’s fantastic. The drivers are very polite and considerate,” said Rene Almanza, a cook at Grandma Hattie’s restaurant. “In big cities, like Los Angeles, the drivers don’t give a damn. All they say is ‘on or off?'”

Almanza, 43, was on his way to a doctor’s appointment Friday morning. He can’t see to drive very well now, and is awaiting a medical decision on whether he’ll need glasses, surgery or some other treatment.

Jon Winters, the bus driver, reminded Almanza which bus stop at which he needed to wait when Almanza was done at the doctor’s office.

Almanza has been riding JAC for just a couple of weeks.

The city has four JAC bus routes that pick up and drop off passengers at designated stops Mondays through Saturdays. A separate bus service, called JAC Assist, transports disabled riders, as required by law.

Three new buses will replace older vehicles later this year.

A contractor provides the service, which is paid for through a mix of funds. The city provides about $350,000 annually in seed money, which is used to obtain federal funds and any other grants. Part of that money finances the city’s share of the RTC Intercity commuter bus service, formerly known as PRIDE, said Patrick Pittenger, the city’s transportation manager.

The bus costs $1 a ride for adults and youth, and 50 cents for seniors and the disabled. Longer-term bus passes are available for a reduced cost.

JAC began operating in October 2005. Only 3,200 riders used it in November 2005, but last month, ridership exceeded 7,100.

Government officials say the changeover from a dial-a-ride system was somewhat premature because bus stops weren’t clearly marked, and bus shelters were crucial to make the fixed-route user friendly.

An intense marketing campaign recently began to make residents more aware of the fixed-base service. The rise in ridership, however, was already occurring, said Shelly Aldean, chairwoman of the Regional Transportation Commission.

“We didn’t want to take any chances,” she said.

Helping to boost use is continued improvement to bus stops and adding ticket sales sites – particularly Western Nevada Community College and Carson City Senior Citizens Center. Students attending WNCC can even buy a semester-long bus pass.

Aldean and Pittenger, however, said higher visibility and word of mouth are important ways to increase ridership. The marketing campaign can help with both counts by focusing on individual riders.

A short-range transit plan provided information on how to start up the system, which has four fixed routes in different directions. A long-term plan will provide information for new routes and other user needs.

Funding it is another issue, Pittenger said.

Advertising on the buses may help offset costs, but where to place it is a consideration. So is making sure people know what JAC buses look like, and where they go, Aldean said.

Right now, “making sure the buses are a familiar part of the streetscape is what’s important,” she said.

While some employers are buying passes for their employees, not all businesses are anxious to have bus service, said Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber also did some surveying of workers in the area and found that personal vehicles were preferred by workers, particularly among workers in the Arrowhead Drive industrial area. The buildings are pretty far apart, and the street isn’t wide enough for a bus stop.

“There’s a lot of shift workers who can get home because the buses don’t run late at night,” she said. “It’s hard to move Americans out of their cars. But things could change, and JAC could offer more routes and run later in the future.”

Bus systems don’t make a profit This is why the private sector stopped operating large systems across the country beginning in the 1970s, Pittenger said.

“It’s a public service; it’s a social service,” he said. “It’s for people who need it and riders who choose it.”

He would be pleased if the system ended up with a revenue return of 20 percent within the next year or two. It’s slightly higher than half of that now. Reno’s comparatively vast public transit system, with its huge student population and commuter ridership, is at 33 percent, he said.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber or 882-2111, ext. 215.

How JAC compares to other city bus services in the Western United States

Community population fare revenues

Carson City 54,457 10.3 percent*

Casper, Wyo. 57,7 19 7 percent

Flagstaff, Ariz. 57,050 11 percent

Grand Forks, ND-MN 56,573 14 percent

Missoula, Mont. 68,471 15 percent

Pocatello, Idaho 62,498 12 percent

Sheboygan, Wisc. 68,600 15 percent

Population counts are based on 2000 U.S. Census data. Other cities listed have been operating some fixed-route service for at least five years.

* For year ending September 2006, excluding October 2005, when virtually all rides were free to introduce the service.

-Carson City Public Works

Cost to operate an auto versus riding JAC

The federal government reimburses people who use their vehicles for business trips 48.5 cents a mile. This is based on the national average to operate a vehicle by the mile. Driving 2,500 miles to and from work over 250 days results in spending more than $1,200 a year.

Taking the bus for the same number of trips – even if the trips were a longer distance – would cost $300. It cost $300 to buy 12 monthly bus passes.

-Carson City

Public Works

JAC fills a variety of needs

Katrina Pettinger, 36, of Carson City

Rides JAC to work since January 2006. Doesn’t have a driver’s license, and is working toward affording a car.

“I’m grateful there’s a bus here. I hope ridership goes up so it’ll run more often. We’re a capital city here.”

Sandra Poune, 44, of Carson City

Has used JAC to run errands since its beginning. Has epilepsy, so she can’t drive. Right now, the ailment is keeping her from having a job, but she expects to return to work at some point.

“Before, I was walking everywhere, or asking my friends to take me places.”

Lila Valentino, 51, of Carson City

Rides JAC to work during the day and take taxi home at night. She used to use the old dial-a-ride service, and drove when she lived in California years ago.

“It’s convenient for me to get to work. It’s a necessity in Carson City. I don’t have a car.”