Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011 | 5:23 p.m.
Most of the people who complained at a meeting Thursday on cuts in the valley’s public transit system were people who don’t ride the buses being cut. But they might still be some of the biggest victims of the change.
The senior housing complex at Desert Inn Road and Town Center Drive in Summerlin isn’t a nursing home. Its seniors live independently.
But many residents use wheelchairs, scooters or walkers. Many don’t have cars and rely on family, friends or the commission’s paratransit service to get to doctors’ appointments, social events or to do shopping.
The commission changes its bus routes twice a year. The next round of changes, approved Thursday, goes into effect Sept. 18.
Because of low tax revenue and increased paratransit operating costs, the commission is cutting bus service by about 5.5 percent to save more than $3.8 million per year, General Manager Jacob Snow said.
The largest change, other than the addition of the new Henderson and Downtown Express and Boulder Highway Express bus routes, will be the consolidation of Route 203, which serves Spring Mountain Road and Twain Avenue, and Route 213, which runs on Desert Inn Road and Lamb Boulevard.
Because Spring Mountain and Desert Inn are parallel and not far apart, the routes were easy to combine, Snow said. This one route change will save the commission about $1 million per year.
Included in that change is eliminating the loop at the western end of Route 203. Half of the buses on the route drive that section now, but few passengers use the loop even though it provides service to the Nevada Cancer Institute.
So the commission wants to cut off that portion of the line and has arranged with Helping Hands, a nonprofit group that provides transportation to seniors and the disabled, to provide more rides to the Cancer Institute.
However, the loss of fixed-route bus service in that part of town will also reduce the paratransit service in the area.
The commission previously offered paratransit service to people who lived within a mile and a half of a fixed-route bus service, but recently the coverage area was reduced to three-quarters of a mile, the minimum area required by federal law.
When that change was made, people who were no longer in the service area were grandfathered in, so they could still use the paratransit service, but new people in those areas could not, and people who no longer live within three-quarters of a mile because of later fixed-route changes would not be grandfathered in.
With the Route 203 change, the Carefree facility will no longer be within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed-route bus line. About 50 of the 375 residents use paratransit, Chief Operating Officer Carrie Barone said.
The service “is critical for some of them,” Barone said. “They have no vehicles … a lot of them don’t have family here and they have to get to various medical appointments.”
Carefree does offer transportation for residents for some events, but it is not a personalized service, so it can’t take residents to individual doctor’s appointments, Barone said. Doing so would be costly.
Without paratransit service, some residents may be forced to move, possibly to assisted living or nursing homes, which would be more expensive, she said.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who is on the commission’s board, suggested that the Carefree facility use its bus service to take the residents to bus stops where they could access paratransit or Silver Star routes.
Paratransit-eligible people who don’t live in the service area can still use the service, but they have to get to the service are to be picked up.
Barone said she would have to look into that.
The board approved the fixed-route bus changes with little other discussion.
Also included in the changes are the elimination of Route 408, the southwest business loop, and the elimination of Route 107 on Boulder Highway because that route will now be served by the two new express lines. Other route changes are listed on the commission’s website.
The board also gave final approval to changes in the paratransit fare structure, eliminating the zone-based fares in favor of a flat $3 fare for all trips.
The final item of the commission meeting was to discuss the controversial fixed-route bus operations contract, which is now the subject of a lawsuit against the commission.
The board directed its staff to return at the next meeting with more information on how it can proceed and the options for splitting the bus system into multiple smaller contracts.
It will also consider the operation contract for the paratransit system. The current paratransit contract, with First Transit, expires in July.
Snow stressed that bus service reduction later this month has nothing to do with the bus contract debate, but is a response to the bad economy. If things don’t improve, the commission will likely have to make additional cuts next year, he said.