The wheels on the bus go round

Keeping bus drivers happy will be worth the wage increase.

So my family’s sort of homeless, living in Lemmon Valley at the home of some generous friends while we wait for our new house to be completed.

My teens think Lemmon Valley is the end of the universe. It’s true, staring off into the dark, starry desert late at night makes me feel a bit distant. And it’s a 20-minute commute by car to the News & Review office downtown or to my daughter’s babysitting gig or my son’s football practice at Oppio Park.

We’re sucking up gas like never before. I found myself filling up at the pumps at the 7-Eleven on Lemmon Drive two times in three days. My Mitsubishi barely fits in with the large trucks, Fords and Chevys, many with the telltale blue license plates of longtime Nevadans. But my economy car does get better than 30 miles per gallon. I find myself wondering how these truck folks afford the daily commute to jobs in Reno and Sparks.

My younger teens are too old for a babysitter, but they’re too young to drive. Yet they want to do stuff like go to the library, to the theater, to the park, to friends’ homes or to a coffee house downtown.

I can’t justify any more trips in and out of town.

But on our first trip to the very edge of the universe, we made an exciting discovery: Bus stop signs all along Lemmon Drive.

My daughters, age 15 and 13, used Citifare Youth Passes during July to get around, so they’re getting the hang of the bus system. And you can see how people would come to rely on it for work, for enjoyment, or just to save making trips to the gas station every other day.

As I write this, though, area bus drivers are ready to strike over wage and health insurance issues. Representatives of the bus drivers from Teamsters Local 533 are in negotiations with the Regional Transportation Commission and Transit Manager of Washoe. A bus-driving friend of the RN&R, who didn’t want to be named, says that the drivers’ demands aren’t unreasonable. An experienced bus driver in Reno is lucky to make $30,000 a year, which might be an acceptable starting wage—but it’s hardly a living wage these days.

“These drivers have not received cost of living compensation for over 10 years, I believe. Costs go up. Rent goes up. In other cities, I’d start at what [Reno] drivers top out at.”

Drivers want a 20 percent wage increase phased in over three years. RTC and Transit Manager officials are countering with a 6 percent raise over three years.

I don’t know how many folks in Lemmon Valley depend on the bus to get around. Or how many in Sun Valley. Or Sparks. Or northwest Reno. But I do know that the buses are an integral part of our transportation system. It was hard not to think about last night as I navigated my way through the Spaghetti Bowl at 5:15 p.m. and joined the thick clot of cars coursing up the north-south artery that is Highway 395.

Some things are worth investing in. I’m thinking that keeping bus drivers happy will be worth the dough in the long run.