I want to tell you about my commute, because it’s easily the most horrible story you’ll hear about taking the bus in this town.
I live in the Huntridge Tract, near Oakey Boulevard and Maryland Parkway. In order to get to the Vegas Seven offices I need to take two buses, the first being RTC Route 109 (which runs on Maryland) or RTC Route 206 (which runs on Charleston—it’s a bit longer of a walk, but the double-decker coaches run on that route and I much prefer them to the accordion-style buses). Either bus deposits me at the handsome, modern Bonneville Transit Center, where I grab the SDX (Strip-Downtown Express) to Town Square. From there, it’s just a 25-minute walk to the offices near Dean Martin and Sunset.
The whole thing takes an hour and a half under perfect conditions. But this morning, Route 109 failed to appear at its appointed time. I had to wait an additional 20 minutes for the next bus, which through some stroke of luck got me to Bonneville in time to catch the SDX. But something happened that, until now, I’d only seen happen on Seattle’s Metro bus routes, which are subject to bad weather, road closures and impromptu route adjustments due to hippie-based rioting: Two SDX buses showed up, one after the other. I hopped on the first of them and checked the time: I was half an hour behind schedule.
The drivers of RTC’s express buses are ensconced behind a tinted glass wall. It’s a part of a conceit jocularly known as “Bus Rapid Transit.” You don’t swipe your fare card as you get on (onboard RTC employees do unannounced spot-checks, fining fare jumpers), and the bus makes limited stops. It’s supposed to emulate the speed and reliability of light rail; it doesn’t. On mornings like this one, when a driver is running behind his time and needs to catch up, BRT compels drivers to miss even more stops, and the glass wall makes it impossible for them to hear the protests of passengers who now have to walk a mile out of their way.
“Excuse me, Mr. Driver?” A young girl tried to project her voice through the glass. “You missed my stop back there. I pressed the button. Can you pull over, please?”
The driver either didn’t hear her or didn’t care, and her protests soon turned to shrill, piercing screams. Passengers began to yell at her: “This is an express bus, you dumb bitch!” one cried from the back.
“Don’t you fucking tell me this is an express bus! I take this fucking bus every day. No one on this bus had better tell me shit, you hear me?”
The last thing I heard before I cranked the volume on my iPod was her calling RTC’s customer-service line. (That’s 228-7433, just in case you were on the bus with me this morning.) Twenty minutes later I was at Town Square, and my boss mercifully picked me up and saved me the 25-minute slog.
Yes, it sucked. Yes, I would rather have driven. And yes, as soon as I’m done with this little civics project I’m buying a car. But the fact remains that I got from downtown to the south Strip—a distance of seven miles and change—for less than a dollar, averaged out. For a 30-day, unlimited ride pass, I pay a little more than to what you pay for a full tank ($65). And for every bus ride that goes wrong, three of them go right.
RTC has a hell of a long way to go before they can ask people to give up their cars several days a week. Maybe it will never be able to ask people to do that; if ever there was a town more resistant to the very idea of public transit, it’s this one. (Even freeway-crazy Southern California is embracing light rail with a passion.) But the buses are out there in the Vegas heat—running full, running empty, running early, running late. Sometimes the system fails us, but much of the time, it works. And frankly speaking, there are worse things to gamble on in this town than our morning commute.
● The photo above was taken on Route 206, just as it passed Symphony Park. Seriously, the view from the upper decks of those double-decker buses is worth your money. But if
you take the Deuce, don’t expect to get anywhere in a timely fashion. It takes the average tourist a million years to figure out how to board a city bus.
● Dear RTC: You could probably stand to eliminate a number of the stops on Maryland. We wouldn’t mind walking an extra hundred feet if it means the bus runs on schedule.
● I’m going to try the Sahara Express soon—the brand-new SX route. From Rancho Drive to Red Rock Resort in 31 sexy, heart-stopping minutes. Just try to keep your nipples
from getting hard at the very idea.