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October 21, 2014

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Las Vegas express bus lines among best in U.S., report says

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MATTHEW MINARD / Las Vegas Sun / Sun File Photo

The new Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) rapid transit system vehicle hits the streets following an unveiling ceremony at 3258 North Las Vegas Boulevard on Wednesday, June 30, 2004. The vehicle, provided by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, offers commuters a new and larger form of public transportation. Each MAX vehicle can carry up to 120 passengers and uses a cutting-edge optical guidance system to precisely direct it near each MAX station.

Las Vegas’ new bus rapid transit lines was recognized as one of the best in the nation in a report released Thursday — but the U.S. has a long way to go to catch up with some other countries.

The report, "Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit" by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, says Cleveland, Eugene, Ore., Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas have the best bus rapid transit, or BRT, systems in the nation.

The report says, however, the U.S. is far behind other nations in building faster bus systems and needs to do more to catch up.

“These systems are poised to redefine how Americans see and use buses, critical at a time of increasingly scarce transportation funding,” Walter Hook, the executive director of the institute and one of the report’s authors, said in a statement.

“But based on what we’ve seen in our work in cities around the world, we think there’s still more that could be done,” he said. “Getting at least one truly world-class BRT system built in the U.S. could inspire cities around the country to rethink the way they use buses in the fight against increasing traffic congestion and rising fuel prices.”

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada has spent millions of dollars, much of it federal stimulus money, to build four express bus lines and it has more under construction. The report primarily considers the two main lines in service now, the MAX line on Las Vegas Boulevard North, which opened in 2004, and the Strip and Downtown Express line, which began service last year.

The idea of the report was to establish a scoring system to rank the bus systems, similar to how the Green Building Council uses a score to establish its LEED awards for environmentally friendly buildings.

The result is a rubric that gives each bus system a score from 0 to 100. A score of 85 to 100 gets a gold designation, 70 to 84 is silver, 50 to 69 is bronze and anything less than 49 is not considered bus rapid transit.

Las Vegas scored 50 on the scale, getting a bronze designation, but barely passing the requirements for bus rapid transit.

None of the other bus rapid transit lines in the nation got a silver or gold designation, either. Cleveland got a score of 63, Eugene got a 61, Los Angeles got a 61 and Pittsburgh scored 57.

Cities in other nations do much better, the report says, with some scoring as high as 93 when the same ranking system is used.

The report praises the RTC’s system but says the Strip and Downtown Express suffers from congestion and slow service on the main portion of the route, where it lacks dedicated bus-only lanes.

“The SDX line’s most significant deficiency is that the dedicated infrastructure does not continue onto the main part of the Strip, largely because the casino owners did not want to make it easier or more attractive for their clientele to leave their casinos,” the report says.

“The result is that in the most congested and popular part of Las Vegas, the SDX operates more or less like a normal bus route, incurring countless delays,” it continues. “Nonetheless, the SDX line is a positive example to all residents of Las Vegas that BRT can provide high-quality transit at a lower cost than rail, and it is viewed as a political and operational success.”

The MAX line, which was the first rapid transit line in the state, also benefited from some “circumstantial luck” that helped pave the way for the Strip route, the report says.

“The city’s other major transit investment, a monorail, opened late, millions of dollars over budget, and with significant technical issues,” it says. The result is that MAX looked especially good and the RTC was eventually able to expand with the Strip and Downtown Express, which directly competes with the monorail, the report says.

In addition, the BRT success in Las Vegas has quieted most of the push to build a light rail train line in Las Vegas, which is much more expensive, according to the report.

The report also says the Sahara Express line under construction in Las Vegas will likely not qualify as a true bus rapid transit line because it will use the lanes along the right curb of the road rather than in the middle of the street.

“However, the expansion remains a positive sign that BRT is an accepted form of mass transit in Las Vegas,” the report says.

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  1. I ride BRT and Subway systems in other places to save time and/or money. In Las Vegas the lack of political will by our politicians will ensure that anyone who has a car will continue to use it. I'll just sit in traffic alongside The Busses. Here is seems to be a political contest which politician can bend over the furthest to the Casinos, regardless of the needs of the community.