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February 26, 2015

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Get on the bus: How Las Vegas transit compares to other cities


Sun File Photo

The monorail is one of Las Vegas’ mass transportation options. Transit ridership in the valley is fairly high, especially compared to other cities of similar size.

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:

    • New ACE Buses and Lines
      Photo by Justin M. Bowen

      Las Vegas

      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.

    • Nashville

      Nashville, Tenn.

      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.

    • Denver


      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.

    • Louisville

      Louisville, Ky.

      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.

    • Milwaukee


      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

      Portland, Ore.

      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

      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


      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.

    • Tucson


      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.

    • Fresno


      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.

    • Sacramento


      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.

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    1. Unless it has changed since I left, when living there, I found the pubic bus system to be lacking. It seemed they had needed routes, ie from North Las Vegas to downtown, but the frequency wasn't there. If I had to or wanted to take the bus to work, I would have had to leave no later than 5:45-6:00 in the morning to meet the schedules of the buses I needed to take to get downtown by 8:00. IF you missed the first bus, you were out of luck since the next one was not scheduled to come until 2 hrs later.

      On the upside, the buses I would see were always filled with people so people DID take the bus all the time.

    2. The slideshow format used to present comparisons between Las Vegas and various other cities, including relevant pictures, is a nice touch. Kudos to the Sun staff.

      One question though: what is the definition of an 'unlinked bus trip'?

    3. Las Vegas has a ground transportation system that is very good.

      What it lacks is a completed monorail system from the airport to downtown.

      This needs to be done. The casinos also need to make is faster and easier to get to the monorail.

    4. NathanHale:

      Here's the National Transit Database's definition of unlinked passenger trip: "The number of passengers who board public transportation vehicles. Passengers are counted each time they board vehicles no matter how many vehicles they use to travel from their origin to their destination."

      So it's two bus trips if I ride the bus to work in the morning then ride it home in the evening, but if I ride the bus and transfer to another bus it only counts as one trip.

    5. Where's our light rail and commuter trains? Ask the citizens of Henderson. Several years ago, a proposal was put forth to use the UPRR Boulder Cutoff line and the main line to run a light rail service from downtown Henderson and possibly Boulder City to Downtown Las Vegas with a spur thru the airport tunnel to serve McCarran (the tunnel was constructed with a center section for such a purpose.) But all the High-class folks living near the rail line through Green Valley screamed and yelled and complained until the RTC took the proposal off the drawing board. They acted similarly when a Henderson Transit Center was proposed near CSN's Henderson Campus. Since all these fine residents of Henderson object so much to public transportation improvements, I say that the RTC ought to shut down all the bus routes travelling through Henderson at their city limits. Have the Boulder City route skip right on through without stopping until it hits unincorporated Clark County, and the same with any routes that cross any of their "turf." Payback's a you-know-what. People in this part of the country need to get rid of their elitist attitudes about public transportation and recognize its value to every community and every member of the community.

    6. Unfortunatly,this is the west and public transit is not really apart of the coulture like it is back east. If you ever had to wait in over 100 degree heat for a bus to travel, it's nuts. Also what takes 10 minutes by car can take 1 to 2 hours by bus to get back and forth. It's discouraging. It's something to get back and forth; but, not the best way to travel in this city. And sometimes, not the safest. As for the monorail, it's busy? really? I've never seen it used very much. It's our boondogle of a money pit to me. WE, as tax payers(I own property) pay for that thing to keep paying a few, who had state government connections, millions. Want to cut the budget, look there. Place some of that money into good public transit and maybe people will come here & maybe we can get jobs that are located at the outskirts of the city where businesses scream for help and people don't go. It's because of gas prices and no bus service. It's too far out.

    7. This was a rather stupid article for a meaningful topic. The comparisons to other cities unequal in tourism levels, geography, weather and residency is pointless and misleading.

      As usual in these articles regardless of location it does not take into account the layout of the city or the age of the town. For example a recent comparison to Boston which again was designed for horseback, walking, and carriages. Not cars, freeways, wide roads, nor was it built up around a sea port.

      Not to dismiss the importance of the buses, I have lived in many places where they were effective and reasonable and well managed.

      One of my brothers drove for the transit system including the old CAT for many years. He was shot at 3 time, robed twice, broke up several gang fights and cat fights among riders, he dealt with drunks vomiting on the bus and drug users, hookers trying to do quick tricks in the back of the bus and all kinds of other nonsense.

      Sure makes me want to ride public transportation, it takes longer than driving, I still have to be out in the heat and get to my destination a sweaty mess, I can't control the temperature, the foul people I may have to sit next to or stand next to, and I can't come and go as I please and on my own schedule wasting time running my life around the bus schedule. It's these and other reasons that make many people not want to use public transport.

      When I can beam from my house to wherever I need to go then I'll use it with great enthusiasm.

      Until then I will continue to avoid the socialist form of mass manipulation and discomfort best saved for the young and poor. I'm not disrespecting those groups, I've been both several times but given the choice and the freedom I will always choose my own transportation under my control and used to go where and when I want to go in the comfort level I choose, not someone else's ideas of what I should experience.