2/5/09 - SIERRA SPIRIT - SOME FACTS - A lot of people think Sierra Spirit is just a little yellow bus that putts around in a pointless loop with no one in it. Every time I bring up the topic, that statement comes up in one form or another. So, imagine my delight when an RTC dude was at the Feb 3 CAC Meeting, to lay down a stark reality for the cute yellow 'Circulator' as he called it.
Sierra Spirit, for 5 years straight, has been the fastest growing bus route in the entire bus circuit. A little over 1,200 people a day, or roughly 40,000 people a month, ride the bus. Whoah! 40% of all the trips on Sierra Spirit either originate or end at the University of Nevada Reno.
Yay all good news yeah? Well, no. A Federal Grant funded 90% of the Spirit for the first three years of its life. Sales tax revenue has fallen month over month since 2006. They expect a continued decrease, about 16% less this year than last year. Funding is drying up for the service. RTC doesn't feel charging for it will help, because it won't produce enough revenue, and it would decrease ridership. It costs close to $800,000 a year to run spirit, or roughly $250,000 per bus.
There was so much public protest against eliminating the Spirit, RTC instead chose to eliminate one of the three buses that circle the route, and cut the southern stretch of the route from Liberty to First Street. This saves $250,000 per year. But it may not be enough.
However, RTC, in the near future, as in this year, is expecting to have to cut up to 40% of its budget. Even though they didn't outright say it, you could tell at this meeting, they wanted the community to step up to the plate and start contributing to the cost of the service, or it else it very well could be on the chopping block. Obviously, the University is not in a position to be spending any money on a bus (I heard their own student shuttle might be on the chopping block as well.) The RTC guy (who mentioned Sierra Spirit was kind of his brainchild) pointed out that Cal Neva was the only business downtown who contributed to the Spirit's operation via a special assessment fee. The Redevelopment Agency mentioned there might be a couple of ways the City could chip in to help, maybe via federal block grants that cater to low to mid-income projects/people, or discretionary funds. However, the gentleman who conceived the whole concept of Sierra Spirit is basically saying he can't justify keeping the service unless people (The City, private businesses, the University etc) step in to pay for it, and during the next round of cuts, due to come in May and August ...Sierra Spirit, which is not viewed as an essential service, will most likely be cut. RTC is more worried about saving routes that people take to get to their jobs. I tend to agree. Preserve the routes people use to take to their jobs. Although if there is a way to fund Sierra Spirit, I am all for that. Take my poll, too!