When it comes to Las Vegas transit, the city’s OGs will fondly recall the CAT bus. More specifically, being teenagers riding the bus to the Meadows Mall before helicopter parenting was a thing. On December 5, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada celebrated 25 years of servicing the local community. And though the buses now rep the RTC moniker, locals are looking to what’s ahead.
This summer, the entity launched its biggest initiative yet: On Board, a project to engage the community about the future of transit in the region. By inviting the public to experience the On Board bus—a decked-out ride that includes a kids’-zone play area and seating—at events around town, the RTC hopes to increase the conversation around transit as well as give residents an opportunity to complete a short survey at its iPad workstations. And with plans for the future of transportation in the area expected to be complete around the fall of 2018, input is being requested every step of the way. Vegas Seven spoke with Raymond Hess, RTC’s director of planning service, about the survey and what’s in store for the city’s transit.
What have you seen so far from the results of the survey?
There is a lot of interest for more frequent transit service, more reliable transit service. That’s something that is refreshing to hear. That’s something that we’re definitely paying close attention to as part of the study.
How does this relate to the development plan?
The survey is helping us gather public input on what the priorities of the community are related to transit, and we’re taking that feedback and incorporating it into a major transit planning initiative that we’re calling On Board. The On Board plan is going to be focused on three specific issue areas. One is high-capacity transit—I’m talking about that next generation of transit—light rail, modern streetcar, transit that operates in a dedicated right-of-way that’s more reliable, faster, more efficient. The other piece is improvements to our existing transit service, so the buses that we run today, where can we augment and enhance that service? Where might we run new service? Where might we add frequency? The third piece is making sure to incorporate changes in emerging transit technology. We want to make sure that our recommendations aren’t outdated. We want to incorporate those things on the horizon into our study.
When I hear “frequency,” I think of people who are already utilizing bus transit or other alternative transit options. Is there anything in the survey or development plan to incorporate more people who aren’t using the transit system already?
We’re very much trying to engage as much of the community as possible, so we’re trying to do at least five community outreaches per week, everything from Rotary clubs to grocery stores to community events. … We also did 40 one-on-one interviews with different stakeholders in the community, many of whom weren’t necessarily transit riders but we wanted to hear from them in terms of what might be some of the considerations for how we can enhance transit. Then there’s the online survey. Whenever we give a presentation, we push the online survey. We show up with iPads, we get folks who are at the presentation to go in to take the survey. I feel pretty good about the different cross section that we’ve gotten, especially when we have the magnitude of responses that we’re seeing, when we’re talking in the realm of [currently 15,000] responses.
What was some of the feedback you got from those community members about ways to implement more users who are not traditionally using a transit system?
A lot of folks are interested, and some of the people who aren’t currently using transit are interested in, especially, that next-generation transit. They’re interested in some of the economic-development potential. If you’re familiar with some of the growth that’s happening in Denver or Phoenix or Salt Lake City, especially around light rail, there are new opportunities for redevelopment or infill development that is really attractive to folks.
What’s the likelihood of bringing a transit option such as light rail to Las Vegas?
A lot of that is going to be based upon the community support for it, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing the study. We want to make sure that we’re reflecting the community’s desires, and then long-term we have to figure out how to fund such things. We’re not at that point in the study. As I’m sure you can imagine and appreciate, there is a capital pause that would come with that kind of investment, and we have to plan for that.
Can you talk about the Maryland Parkway corridor?
I’m not the project manager on that. What I can do is, I can probably give you the 40,000-foot elevator pitch.
Maryland Parkway is a corridor that has been talked about for next-generation transit for quite some time. Right now, we are going through the environmental assessment process to look specifically at what the environmental impact would be and then the operating cost and what the desired alternative would be along that corridor. Maryland Parkway is an interesting corridor for us because of the destinations it serves. At the southern end, you have McCarran International Airport, then it runs right by UNLV, by Sunrise Hospital, then it goes by Boulevard Mall. Eventually it’ll hook over to Downtown from the current alignment along Carson Street, if I’m not mistaken. It will connect with our transit center. Then, it will actually cross over west of the 15, over to the Las Vegas medical district and the UNLV Medical School, as well as Valley Hospital and UMC. What’s interesting about that is, oftentimes some of the destinations that are talked about for being ingredients to success for transit are universities, medical districts or medical complexes, or hospitals and airports, and Maryland Parkway is going to hit all of them.
The ridership looks very promising on Maryland Parkway. It’s one of our busiest corridors now off the Strip, and so it’s anticipated to really benefit from next-generation transit, and whatever comes out of that would be wrapped into the bigger study as well. Maryland Parkway is further out the gate than anything else, so it has a head start on any other corridor than what would come out of the bigger study.
When was the last time the RTC did a big outreach project like the surveys that you guys are conducting right now?
This is an unprecedented effort. This is the biggest, boldest outreach we’ve ever done. To try to do five outreaches per week is pretty bold, and the number of responses we’re getting is something that’s beyond compare, especially within our agency. It just goes to show how important it is for us as an agency and how important, we think, the community feedback is to the study.