Sun File Photo
Monday, July 18, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegans sometimes lament the city's lack of world-class mass-transit offerings. Yes, the Regional Transportation Commission has spent millions in the past few years buying shiny buses and offering express routes.
Still, residents and tourists often ask: Where's our light rail and commuter trains?
Many locals would say the monorail doesn’t count, and the idea of a possible high-speed rail line to Victorville, Calif., doesn’t excite them either.
So how does Las Vegas' current transit offerings compare with other cities our size? It turns out it's not so bad, at least based on passenger numbers.
And no, it isn't just tourists on the Strip: The commission says less than a quarter of its systemwide passengers are tourists.
Plus, McCarran International Airport is one of the busiest in the world, serving more than 39 million passengers last year, more than any airport in similar cities except Denver.
Here’s a look at how Las Vegas and the 10 closest-sized cities compare in transportation use, based on the most recent data available from the National Transit Database and from individual airports:
Photo by Justin M. Bowen
The Regional Transportation Commission provided 66,100,239 unlinked bus trips while McCarran had 39,757,359 departing and arriving passengers and the Las Vegas Monorail served 5,240,263 passengers.
The Nashville region has two bus operators, which provided a combined 10,259,654 bus trips, far less than Las Vegas' 66 million. The Regional Transportation Authority also provided 23,114 trips on its Music City Star commuter rail line, less than the 5 million monorail passengers here. The Nashville International Airport served 8,961,164 passengers, while McCarran had 39.8 million.
If you want Las Vegas to look good, don't compare it with Denver. Colorado residents are known for being active: walking, biking and apparently using mass transit. The Denver Regional Transportation District provided 77,222,047 bus trips — 11 million more than Las Vegas — and 19,759,388 light rail trips — compared with the monorail's 5 million. Denver International Airport is the fifth busiest in the nation, with 52,211,242 passengers, while McCarran is the eighth busiest in the nation, with 39.8 million.
Here's a city that puts Las Vegas' transit numbers in a good light: Louisville's Transit Authority of River City provided 15,520,760 bus trips for the year — less than a quarter of Las Vegas' trip count. The Louisville International Airport served 3,349,162 passengers while McCarran had 39.8 million, but Louisville is a major cargo hub, unlike McCarran.
There are four bus operators in the region, but Milwaukee still didn't reach Las Vegas' bus trip count of 66 million; it had a combined bus trip count of 48,198,206. The General Mitchell International Airport counted 9,848,377 passengers compared with McCarran's 39.8 million.
Portland is another city that uses a lot of mass transit, and one of the city's top priorities is to operate an efficient transportation system, according to its website. The region's three bus systems reported a combined 74,529,091 trips, about 8 million more than Las Vegas, plus the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District provided 39,306,691 light rail trips and 123,634 commuter rail trips while the monorail had just 5 million passengers. Our airport, however, is busier: The Portland International Airport served 13,192,857 passengers last year while McCarran had 39.8 million.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Although of this list, it's the closest to Las Vegas in terms of population within the city limits, Oklahoma City's transit use pales in comparison with Las Vegas. The Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority provided 2,684,087 bus trips, a fraction of Las Vegas' 66 million. The Will Rogers World Airport served 3,466,127 passengers in 2010, less than McCarran's 39.8 million.
Albuquerque's bus lines don't have high ridership numbers, but the city does have a train line connecting it to Santa Fe. The region's main bus service provided 10,760,389 bus trips (compared with Las Vegas' 66 million) and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express provided 1,083,003 train trips (the monorail had 5 million). The Albuquerque International Sunport had 5,796,373 passengers, whereas McCarran had 39.8 million.
Unlike Las Vegas, Tucson has a light rail system in the works. It has bus service only, which provided 21,575,374 trips, less than Las Vegas' 66 million. The Tucson International Airport served 3,740,675 passengers in 2010, while McCarran had 39.8 million.
Although not far away, Fresno's transit use also makes Las Vegas look good. The Fresno Area Express reported 14,062,016 bus trips, less than a quarter of Las Vegas' trips. And unlike McCarran, which offers easy access to the Strip for its 39.8 million passengers, visitors headed to the tourist zone still have an hour drive to get to Yosemite from the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, which served 1,183,282 passengers last year.
Although Sacramento doesn't have bus service numbers as high as Las Vegas, the city does offer a light rail system to connect with the suburbs. The combined trip count for the Sacramento area bus systems was 22,169,782 — about a third of Las Vegas' count — but the Sacramento Regional Transit District said it had 17,315,0717 light rail trips, while the monorail had 5 million passengers. The Sacramento International Airport had 8,849,711 passengers, compared with McCarran's 39.8 million.