Crazy is on the Bus: My Vegas Transit Wish-list

Recently I told you about a bad bus trip I’d taken. This time I’d like to tell you about a good trip, even though it’s not a very exciting story.

I needed to visit the Las Vegas Springs Preserve for a Vegas/Rated assignment. (Wonderful place, by the way. Very tranquil. I bought a year pass.) So I caught RTC route 109 from Maryland Parkway and Franklin—the only naturally shaded bus stop on Maryland, near as I can tell—and rode it fewer than 10 minutes to the Bonneville Transit Center. From there, I had a choice: I could catch the 206 and walk to the Springs from Charleston and Valley View (or wait for the 104, which might take longer than simply walking), or I could catch the 207 and get off directly in front of the Springs on Meadows Lane. Really, it was all about which bus arrived first.

The 207 arrived in fewer than two minutes. I climbed aboard, and after an uneventful 20-minute ride through the scenic twists and turns of The Ranchos, I arrived at the Springs Preserve without having taken one sip of my water or a cursory look at my short story compilation. I felt like Lindbergh at Le Bourget.

Like I said, it’s not very exciting. No one threw a loud, violent fit and the bus wasn’t delayed in traffic. This is the way that public transit is supposed to work. It’s the way it works in other cities, and it’s beginning to work that way here: as a sensible, if non-sexy, alternative to your car. The really good stuff—rapid transit via underground or elevated trains, trips that are actually faster than your car—that stuff will come later, as gas prices top $8 per gallon. Maybe we’ll never have rapid transit at all; maybe Las Vegans are too proud to share rides. But something will happen when the price of a gallon of gas exceeds that of a happy hour cocktail, and I doubt we’ll convert our cars to run on Fernet.

If I could be granted one naïve wish above all others, it would be for the Las Vegas transit network to run with boring efficiency and to cover so much of the valley that we take it for granted. The other day I heard that cab drivers are balking at taking fares from one downtown venue to the next; they’re uninterested in taking First Friday revelers from the Griffin to the Artifice. The cab thing is a separate issue; drivers will do what they do to get paid. What I’m wondering is, why doesn’t anyone think to take the Strip-Downtown Express, or even the Deuce, from Fremont to 18b? It costs two bucks a person. Five to seven bucks, if you want to make a whole night of it.

It’s going to take a long, long time before we get to the point that three 22-year-olds with perfectly serviceable cars elect to leave them parked and take the bus. Our expectations of what public transit can do for us must grow before our transit network can grow to satisfy those desires. It’s going to take people—so-called “normal people,” maybe like you, but probably not—to ride the bus in great numbers and stop thinking about what it looks like to everyone else. Then, perhaps, we can work on some of these other items on the punch list:

A coffee kiosk at the Bonneville Transit Center. It could even be a tiny pop-up on the corner of one of the several huge, empty lots surrounding the BTC. Someone waiting at a bus terminal is perceived as a transient; someone waiting at a bus terminal with a latte is perceived as a commuter. A coffee kiosk makes a bus terminal into a transportation hub. It just

A real-time arrivals and departures app for iPhone, Windows and Android. Knowing exactly how soon the bus is due gives us the option of waiting inside, where it’s not 100 degrees. I hate to keep beating this drum, but dozens of other cities have such apps, and this is really kind of a no-brainer.

Free wi-fi on the Express, Deuce and other commuter-heavy lines. This isn’t some wacky extravagance; even buses in China have free wi-fi. Imagine being able to update your Facebook or download new books to your Kindle
in the time you’d send one text. The virtual entirety of Las Vegas Boulevard’s 3600 and 3700 blocks are cellular dead zones. Why not give tourists and locals a bandwidth incentive?

● Better-maintained bus stops. The sidewalk at the bus stop at the northwest corner of Maryland and Charleston is coated in soda, vomit and other dubious, dried fluids. Unacceptable. Every stop should be pressure-washed several times a week, budgeting be damned. Do you actually want people to feel confident in taking the bus? That confidence begins at the bus stop.

A light rail network that crisscrosses the valley in a perfect X, and a monorail extension that connects to the airport and downt… Excuse me. This is crazy hippie talk, I know. I won’t even suggest that we put this on the ballot until gas reaches $10 a gallon, and then only with the understanding that I think your SUV is awesome and you should totally start it up right now, in the carport, and let it run for an hour just because you can.