Crazy is on the Bus: How to Ride Public Transit

The first thing you should know is that the bus won’t explode if its speed drops under 55 miles per hour. That’s an urban legend, pure and simple. Besides, I don’t believe any Las Vegas bus has ever accelerated to 55 miles per hour.

But that’s probably not the reason you’ve never taken the bus in this town. The flat fact of the matter is that you’ve never needed to take the bus; your 2004 Civic with the spider-webbed windshield gets you everywhere you need to be, and as long as you don’t make too many lane changes, the Highway Patrol will never know that you’re coming from Señor Frog’s. Why in the hell would you want to get on a bus? Buses are smelly, unpleasant; the only people who take them are those who can’t afford Civics, or have lost their Civics for various and sundry reasons. Oh yeah, and German tourists.

I haven’t polled my fellow riders, so I’ve no idea if your assessment of Las Vegas’ bus riders is accurate. I’m trained on Seattle’s transit system, where you don’t talk to your fellow riders unless you know them from the bus stop or from seeing them around the neighborhood. Rightly or wrongly, you keep to yourself—eyes on your Kindle or iPhone, earbuds blasting School of Seven Bells—and you simply get where you’re going. You make basic acknowledgments of the personal freedoms of others—why, yes, I’ll scoot over—but that aside, the ride is your own, in spite of the fact that you’re sharing it with others. You paid for it. It belongs to you, even if the bus itself does not.

That’s the idea that automobile-centric cities such as Las Vegas can’t seem to grasp: Public transit is not an entitlement. I pay $65 for a 30-day bus pass, which is no small chunk of change (though doubtlessly far less than you pay to maintain a private vehicle for an equivalent amount of time). For that money I expect a certain standard of service, and for the most part, RTC delivers it: The buses are air-conditioned and clean, run in a timely manner, and are largely free of noise and aggression. (When things get unruly, Vegas’ bus drivers don’t mess around: The very second a passenger’s voice is raised in anger, the bus pulls over and police are called.)

It’s not a perfect system. I wish that RTC’s routes covered more area (read my previous entry), and that the agency would produce a real-time arrivals app like Seattle’s One Bus Away so I don’t have to spend too terribly long waiting in the heat. (At the very least, I wish RTC would send Google its updated schedules; the arrival times I get through Google Maps are usually off by at least 10 minutes.) But I think our public transit system has good bones, far better than it did a decade ago. In time, when ridership numbers climb as gas prices ascend into the ridiculous, we’ll begin to see more meat on those bones—more routes, more frequency. We might even get a light-rail line that’s actually useful. But it all begins with the bus system we have now, and passengers who know how to use the damn thing.

Riding the bus is easy. Here’s all you need to know:

  • Google Maps can tell you where to go and when. Simply hit the “Get Directions” button, then hit the transit button (second button from the left; has a picture of a bus on it), and then enter your location and the address of where you’d like to go. The rest is self-explanatory.
  • Bring exact change. Non-Strip routes are $5 for 24 hours of unlimited rides; Strip buses are $7 for 24 hours. Put the money into the bill feeder on the fare box, and it’ll spit out your pass. Hold on to it; you’ll need to scan it when you get back on, also on the fare box. (Diagonal slot, right to left.)
  • Press the red “Stop” button a quarter-mile before you get to your stop. These things can’t stop on a dime. If you’re not sure where your stop is, ask the driver to call it off for you in advance.
  • Bring a book; bring your iPod; bring needlepoint if it turns you on. This is gifted time. Make the most of it.
  • Don’t fuck with anyone else’s ride. If you’re busing in and out of First Friday (a great idea, by the by), try to be a quiet and introspective drunk. More of a Fitzgerald than a Hemingway.
  • If you’re bringing your bike on the bus (also a great idea), take the time beforehand to learn how the bike racks work. You come on without having at least a vague idea of how this shit works and you’ll make everyone else late. See this page for step-by-step visual instructions.
  • Finally, don’t judge. Don’t judge other riders for riding the bus, and don’t judge yourself for joining them. In other “real” cities—the New Yorks, the Chicagos, the cities we aspire to be—riding public transit is no big deal. Some even prefer the bus to owning a car. We may get there, too, when the crazy idea of Las Vegas public transit finally blows up.