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Citizens Group Votes No On Bus Fare Hikes

A citizens advisory group says bus fares should not go up in Washoe County. Now they must figure out other ways to close a multi-million-dollar funding gap that will soon hit public transit each year. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports.

If nothing changes, almost every bus rider in the county will be affected by service cuts that'll reduce routes over the next several years. For nearly a decade, the Regional Transportation Commission, or RTC, has been operating at a deficit while relying on its cash reserves. Those are depleting, so the organization has asked a committee of local leaders for their advice. Last week, the group unanimously voted "no" on fare hikes.

"I thought that they understood the limited powers of raising fares," says RTC Transit Planner Ed Park, "and that we really don't want to be a service that exclusively serves those who simply don't have a choice."

Park says some people, like seniors and those with disabilities, must rely on public transit. But discretionary riders, like tourists and Millennials, have other options and raising fares would make them less likely to hop on a bus when they could just call a cab or drive themselves. That's the pattern Park has seen with fare hikes in the past, and he says that shift in ridership turns the system into more of a social service.

"You really want a transit system that's geared toward all riders," Park explains, "not just those who rely on transit, to reduce pollution, congestion, and to make the community more sustainable and livable."

Next month, the committee will decide on its other recommendations, which could include a ballot initiative for more sales tax revenue or moving some funds for roadways over to transit.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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