ACE Produces Winning Hand

Ridership for new Bus Rapid Transit routes way above initial expectations

After just a few weeks, the Regional Transportation Commission’s new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route between the Strip and downtown seems to be finding its ridership. The ACE Gold Line and the new ACExpress C Line from Centennial Hills join a BRT route called MAX already running from downtown to Nellis Boulevard. Ground has just broken on a new line down Boulder Highway, and RTC also received funds for a new line along Sahara Avenue.

Since the launch at the end of March, ridership for the Gold Line has been better than expected with more than 20,000 people per day (projections were between 4,000 and 6,000). And the express line has seen more than 12,000 total riders, also above expectations.

What’s more, tourists seem to love it. “This is great. The wait time has been fabulous,” says Carolyn Butterfield, who’s visiting from the Seattle area. “If they had bus service like this at home, I’d be more tempted to take it.”

Butterfield and her friends were able to easily—and cheaply—make their way between the Strip and downtown. “It’s like we ordered a bus just for us,” says Paula Thompson, visiting from Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The appeal of BRT, its supporters claim, is that it can mimic the plush ride and quality interiors of today’s light-rail trains, and approximate their speed—with dedicated right-of-way and off-bus fare collection—at a fraction of the cost.

One day in early April, a ride on the Gold Line from the Las Vegas Premium Outlets mall downtown to the Strip proved that the bus is smooth—maybe not as smooth as light-rail, but definitely a far cry from the stop-and-go jerkiness common to most bus rides. RTC employees were on hand at several stops to help guide people, and purchasing tickets was easy at the kiosks.

Still, anyone expecting really rapid transit might want to downshift their expectations. The journey from the outlet mall, past Fremont Street, over to the Las Vegas Convention Center and down the Strip to Bellagio took 40 minutes. Even as traffic was picking up in the afternoon down Las Vegas Boulevard, the bus made only a few stops on the Strip, which did give the ride a more relaxed cast. And for tourists looking for another way to get through the resort corridor to Fremont Street, the ride had the same leisurely feel as playing hooky from work. But for residents, there’s little incentive not to drive.

The RTC is still trying to work out how to keep the buses in better contact with each other so they don’t bunch up along the line. Traveling each way, the Gold Line bus stopped for several minutes at the convention center to smooth out the spacing. RTC spokeswoman Allison Blankenship says the agency has a team of workers helping to smooth out any initial hiccups.

Henderson resident Randy Love had just come from the Internal Revenue Service office downtown. He was on his way to the South Strip Transfer Terminal to connect to the 207 bus, making his third trip downtown on the Gold Line. So far he has been very impressed. “It would have taken me six hours without this. Now it’s down to three. This is by far the smoothest ride. I thought they couldn’t top the MAX, but they did.”