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RTC Faces Budget Shortfall

By Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz) from Wikimedia Commons

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada -- the agency that manages roads, bus services, traffic lights, and almost everything else involving roads -- is in a bit of a bind. 

As more people use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, the RTC's bus ticket revenue is decreasing.  

"I think it is really hard for it to be just speculation, because the decrease in revenue coincides very much with the introduction of transportation network companies," RTC General Manager Tina Quigley told State of Nevada.

She said across the country, transit revenue has dropped 7 percent -- but in Los Angeles, the drop was 21 percent. She said Las Vegas is actually about neutral: while Strip ridership is down, ridership in other places in the city is up.

Quigley said the increased use of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft will not hurt efforts to build a light rail system down Maryland Parkway.

She said it becomes a matter of space. At some point, there is just not enough asphalt for cars -- in whatever shape they come in and whoever is driving.

"There will also be a need in urban environments for high capacity transit," she said.

Quigley said RTC is in the process of getting the Maryland Parkway corridor light rail project up and running. The environmental study is being conducted, and the effort to secure federal grants to pay for at least 50 percent of the project is underway.

Supporters of the project say it will not only ease congestion along an important thoroughfare but it will also spur development along that road, which connects McCarran Airport, UNLV, a retail center & Sunrise Hospital. 

The plan for the light rail includes it turning towards University Medical Center and the burgeoning medical district near downtown Las Vegas.

Quigley said if Southern Nevada does get grant money to pay for half of the project, the other half will be up to the voters & taxpayers to decide.

"In the end, it is going to be up to the community," she said. "It's going to be up to us, as taxpayers -- as voters -- to decide what do we want to do comprehensively as it relates to transit in Southern Nevada."

As part of that effort to find out what taxpayers want, the RTC has launched an extensive public outreach project to get input on its 20-year transit plan. 

"We are trying to gauge where is it we need to be increasing traditional bus service," she said. "Where is it that we need to be looking at high capacity transit service, light rail or bus rapid transit or express systems? And, where are the areas where we need to be taking a look at emerging and new technologies?"

Quigley encouraged people to go to to fill out the survey. 

Some of the new technologies being explored are on-demand systems similar to public buses but are called by app, similar to how Uber and Lyft work. Quigley said those companies are already working on that type of transportation.

"It is something we have to pay attention to," she said. "This technology exists, people are increasingly going to expect this -- and they deserve it"

Another new technology on the horizon is autonomous cars. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) called in to talk to Quigley about the new technology and what can be done on the federal level.

"We are hopefully getting to debate a bill, which is the AV Start Act, to kind of create the framework or infrastructure for autonomous vehicles across the country," Cortez Masto said. "There's issues concerning safety & privacy, and displacement of drivers & workers. My question to you, Tina, and for the state, is what would you like to see out of federal legislation in particular when we're talking about setting and creating this framework for autonomous vehicles?"

"One of the things we struggle with right now is, at a national level, what type of standards are going to be deployed that we should be working towards," Quigley replied. 

Quigley said even small things, like consistent markings and signs for autonomous vehicles to follow throughout the country, have not been decided.

She said it is not big technological leaps but physical changes to roadways that need to be worked out for autonomous vehicles to really get rolling in a safe way.

Tina Quigley, general manager, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)