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In bad economy, bus riders fear their number is up

Decisions are always based on numbers in a poor economy.

For the Regional Transportation Commission, it means a $9 million budget gap that, thanks to some signs of improvement in sales tax revenue, was recently reduced to an $8.3 million gap.

It means taking a look at the agency’s inventory of bus routes and determining how many public transit passengers use each line. It means scrutinizing the one that draws 600 riders a day compared to busier routes that carry 10,000 passengers a day.

It means proposing the elimination of Route 207, which primarily serves Stewart Avenue and Alta Drive, two arterials dotted with mobile home parks and apartment complexes for the elderly or disabled.

Here are a couple more numbers:

Of 347 public comments the Regional Transportation Commission has received about its proposed service changes overall, 250 were specifically about Route 207.

The commission next month will decide which routes to ax, and residents affected by the proposals hope that board members will consider more than just numbers.

To them, it’s about independence and studies that show once elderly people are stripped of their independence, they often lose their will to live.

Even though routes will still exist a half-mile from the 207 route, that is not feasible for the majority of residents who depend on the bus line, said Sharon Donnellan, a resident of the Rulon Earl Mobile Home Park.

"I looked around and I have this lady who is legally blind and the one sitting next to her is in her 90s. She’ll fall down dead before she gets to the bus stop," Donnellan said of a recent outreach meeting the transportation commission held at the mobile home complex. "That’s all we have to get around."

Passengers rely on the route to do their shopping or pick up prescriptions at a commercial plaza on Nellis Boulevard and Stewart. They take the bus to activities at the East Las Vegas Community/Senior Center on Eastern Avenue and Stewart or downtown to throw a few pennies into the slot machines.

"I can understand they need to make cutbacks, but this is the only bus that goes down this street (Stewart)," Donnellan said. "They’re taking these people’s dignity away, their independence away, because now a lot of these people don’t have anybody to do this running around for them."

Regional Transportation executives said the elimination of Route 207 will save the agency about $1 million a year. Like every other government entity in Nevada, they face the challenge of identifying services and programs to cut in order to balance their $500 million budget.

It is their job to pick routes that are less used and juggle other routes in an attempt to make up for losses, then allow the elected officials to give them direction on how to move forward.

That said, administrators have become acutely aware of the concerns about Route 207, and they too realize that there is more to the proposed service changes than mere numbers.

"It’s a matter of freedom and independence; whether or not they use it regularly, just knowing it’s there," said Tina Quigley, interim general manager of the RTC. "We are going to take the comments to the board, and they will choose to eliminate the route or keep the route in its entirety or make modifications to the service. I expect they’re going to have some discussion on it."

The commission will also consider altering Routes 206, which runs along Charleston Boulevard to the south of Stewart, and Route 208, which services Washington Avenue to the north. Those lines could dip deeper into communities in an attempt to make up for the loss of 207.

Also of concern to the commission is the demand the route elimination could have on paratransit, which is becoming problematic because of its growing expense to the agency. Elderly residents and those with severe disabilities must apply for the service, which is appointment based. The commission is well aware that many of the Route 207 passengers might not qualify for paratransit.

The other option is modifying the Silver Star service, which is a fixed route program that make loops through communities twice a week, shuttling elderly passengers to activity centers, shopping districts and medical appointments.

Commissioners are scheduled to consider the proposed changes during their April 14 meeting at the Clark County Government Center. The approved adjustments will go into effect May 20.

While Donnellan has lobbied her neighbors and the elderly community to submit comments to the Transportation Commission, she has an inkling the decisions have already been made. At about the same time agency representatives came to her mobile home park on March 13, Donnellan said other riders noticed flyers posted at the bus stop, warning passengers that the route will be eliminated.

"Of course they said no definite decisions have been made yet, but take a ride down Stewart and look at the signs," she said. "A lot of these people bought their homes because it was near the bus route. Now it’s like they’re being imprisoned in their homes."

As a final note, I followed Donnellan’s recommendation Friday afternoon and drove Stewart between Nellis and Las Vegas boulevards and saw no signs indicating the route was up for elimination. Perhaps the passengers were confused about the signs or maybe the agency realized it was too premature to trigger widespread panic.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior @reviewjournal.com. Include your phone number.

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