Thursday, May 19, 2011 | 6:09 p.m.
The Regional Transportation Commission approved a final annual budget that anticipates cuts to bus services.
The $500 million budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, is about $100 million lower than the current budget. The RTC funds road construction projects, transit services and other transportation programs in the county.
The commission, like other government entities, has become a victim of the recession, with sales and use tax revenue down about 34 percent from its 2007 peak.
The motor vehicle fuel tax is also down about 8.5 percent from its peak, and despite increases in bus fares, lower ridership numbers mean fare box revenue has risen only slightly.
The result is an expected decrease in the number of hours a year the RTC will operate buses.
In fiscal year 2009, the RTC offered 1.5 million service hours; next year, it will have about 1.3 million service hours.
Had the RTC board rejected a new contract with First Transit to operate the bus system, the commission would have been forced to cut its service by another 100,000 hours to afford the more expensive contract with Veolia Transportation, officials said.
The bus route and schedule cuts will be announced next week and will be presented to the board for approval before going into effect in September.
In addition to falling revenue, the RTC has been facing an increase in paratransit riders, which cost significantly more to transport than the fixed-route bus service.
A passenger trip on a fixed route costs the RTC $2.19 to offer, while a paratransit ride costs $41.55, even though the fare is only 45 cents more for the passenger. In a separate action, the RTC board approved a change to the service area offered to paratransit riders.
Federal law requires the RTC to provide paratransit service to areas within three-fourths of a mile from any fixed-route bus line. Since 2002, the RTC has done better, offering paratransit service to areas within 1 1/2 miles of a bus line.
But with the revenue shortfall, the RTC has proposed reducing that service back to the minimum required by federal law.
The RTC has promised the 871 current paratransit customers who live outside the new boundaries would be grandfathered in and still be able to get rides. However, customers wouldn't be dropped off at locations outside the service area unless it is for a current customer returning home.
Paratransit ridership has risen 20 percent in the current fiscal year and is expected to rise another 10 percent next year, primarily due to state budget cuts, which significantly reduced transportation options for some seniors.
The change in service area would save the RTC about $1.5 million in the next fiscal year.
Board members approved the change unanimously, but Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross called the cuts “painful.”
The RTC is also planning to eliminate a monthly pass offered to paratransit customers in an effort to reduce the number of rides people take, but that proposal has yet to be opened for public comment or be presented to the board.