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July 29, 2014

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On an ACE bus, you’ll feel a bit like you’re on light rail, and that’s by design

RTC: New Bus is an ACE

Sleek new ACE buses will take passengers down two new routes starting on Sunday, March 28. Until April 3, locals ride for free on the new ACE Gold Line and ACExpress rapid transit service from Centennial Hills to downtown, UNLV and the south Strip.

New ACE Buses and Lines

ACE bus operator Marvin Wilkins drives the new ACExpress C line during RTC's a media showing of the new line Wednesday, March 24, 2010. Regular service will begin Sunday, March 27, 2010.
 

Launch slideshow »
Jacob Snow

Jacob Snow

The Regional Transportation Commission is spending $164.6 million of public money on the new ACE buses and their special bus stops in part because too many Las Vegans consider themselves too good to ride a bus.

Surveys and focus groups confirmed the prejudice against riding a bus, the stereotyping that buses are only for the down and out. But the same studies also convinced the RTC that many more people would be willing to ride these buses, RTC General Manager Jacob Snow says.

“We got the middle class, and they told us, ‘We’ll take transit. We don’t care if it’s a bus. We don’t care if it’s a train. But it needs to get me where I want to go, it needs to get me there fast. And I need to feel like I’m not receiving welfare from the state to take transit,’ ” Snow says.

ACE — “the way it looks, the way it runs and the way it’s marketed” — is intended to entice people who “won’t view it as taking the bus,” says Tom Piechota, UNLV’s director of sustainability and an RTC Stakeholder Advisory Committee member.

ACE, which launches Sunday, uses lavish 62-feet-long hybrid buses designed, inside and out, to look like a train car, with 44 seats, hand rails to accommodate 65 more people, interior bike racks and a cabin that separates the driver from passengers. Like many light-rail trains, the buses will stop at designated stations with raised platforms, removing the need to climb steps as passengers enter the bus through any of its three wide doors.

And it will mainly use bus-only and high-occupancy vehicle lanes to provide faster service.

Bus rapid transit systems have become popular in the United States because they offer the speed and comfort of a light-rail train without the high cost and inflexibility of a system that runs on tracks.

Although far cheaper than light rail, ACE still represents a sizable investment. Each of the long, sleek gasoline-electricity vehicles costs $1 million, and the RTC has purchased 50. Plus, it has spent $28 million to build a park-and-ride facility and a downtown transfer station, and more than $50 million to build dedicated bus lanes and stations in downtown Las Vegas.

And that’s just for the first two lines.

Three more are in the works, and by 2015, the RTC hopes to have ACE lines crisscrossing the valley.

The vehicles and their stations cost a lot more than a traditional bus line’s, but ACE buses should last eight years longer than a traditional bus, and the dedicated lanes provide faster service and require fewer vehicles, the RTC says.

Plus the system will make buses more convenient for people as the time to destinations is less because of HOV lanes on the freeway and dedicated lanes on surface streets, Piechota says.

“The time for you to get to work, depending on where you’re going, is at least comparable to driving and in some cases may even be faster than driving,” he says.

Snow is confident ACE will draw new riders because of the success the RTC has seen with the Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX, line, which has been running on Las Vegas Boulevard North since 2004. When that line began using the larger buses on dedicated lanes, ridership increased 40 percent, Snow notes.

“We had a number of people who left their automobiles to come try the MAX, and we noticed that we could provide that type of service at a lower cost than our other traditional bus service,” Snow says. “Our operating costs go down and the speed of getting to someone’s destination goes up. It’s a great combination.”

Bus driver Marvin Wilkins has been taking ACE buses on test drives to get ready for opening day and says the reaction has been exactly what the RTC hoped for.

“People see it and say, ‘Oh, man, what a great bus. What a beautiful bus. When can we ride it? When can we ride it? When does it start?’ Everybody wants to ride it.”

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