Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
The suggestion that locals avoid parking at the airport by taking the bus is often met with a laugh, but the valley’s transit system is looking to change that and get more travelers and commuters to ride buses.
The Regional Transportation Commission is trying to replace people’s beliefs that public buses are ugly, slow and inconvenient.
General Manager Jacob Snow prefers the words clean, fast and convenient when talking about the commission’s new express bus lines.
On Sunday, the RTC is adding McCarran International Airport to its list of express destinations, along with a new park-and-ride facility at the intersection of Durango and Westcliff drives, near Summerlin Parkway.
The airport will be on the new Westcliff Airport Express route. For $2, passengers will be able to get on the bus at the Suncoast, the new park and ride, downtown or on the Strip at Tropicana and go directly to the airport.
As a holiday bonus, passengers can ride this line for free from Dec. 17 to 24 with local identification.
“The goal is to provide a service that would attract people to transit that wouldn’t normally take transit,” Snow said.
The new park-and-ride lot has 140 parking spaces bus passengers and those who car pool can use for free. There is also a 1,600-square-foot transit center where passengers can wait in air-conditioned comfort for their bus to arrive at one of the eight bus bays.
The $4.7 million facility also serves three regular bus routes — the 207, 208 and 209 — in addition to the new express line.
The express route is the fourth the commission has created this year to appeal to new customers.
It joins, and will cross paths with, the Centennial Express, the Strip and Downtown Express and the Metropolitan Area Express lines.
The lines are the beginning of what Snow hopes will become a network of bus lines that make a limited number of stops and use high-occupancy vehicle and express lanes on the freeways to get people from their homes to major attractions and employment centers such as the Strip, the airport and downtown.
Two more express lines are under construction, one on Boulder Highway and another on Sahara Avenue.
The RTC is also adding to its collection of transit centers.
Just a year ago, it only had the Downtown Transportation Center and the South Strip Transfer Terminal. It since has opened the Centennial Hills Transit Center and the Bonneville Transit Center, which replaces the old downtown center.
“The facilities are very, very nice, and they’re clean and well secured and maintained,” Snow said. “That’s the type of product we want to put out there. We don’t think we should put something out there that’s going to send the message out to the community that we don’t care and we’re not going to keep it up and maintain it.”
The new facilities and bus lines have quickly become popular and the express-bus concept, usually referred to as bus rapid transit, is spreading across the country.
The RTC’s first express route, the Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX, route, began testing the concept on Las Vegas Boulevard North in 2004. The line uses larger buses than normal in dedicated bus lanes and saw a ridership increase of 40 percent.
So earlier this year, the RTC added the ACE Gold Line and the ACExpress C Line. Both were to use sleek new vehicles designed to look like light rail train cars. The two lines use dedicated bus lanes on some downtown streets, and the C Line, which goes from downtown to the northwest part of Las Vegas, uses the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on U.S. 95.
About two weeks later, the RTC broke ground on dedicated bus lanes for the Boulder Highway route.
Use of the Gold Line, which runs up and down Las Vegas Boulevard through downtown and the Strip, was overwhelming. Instead of the 4,000 to 6,000 riders per day the RTC expected, as many as 20,000 people used the line on some days.
Ridership on the C Line was respectable as well, but the demand on the Gold Line meant the shiny buses were diverted away from the longer route that was serving locals instead of tourists. The C Line now averages 1,000 riders a day.
The RTC heavily promoted the new services, using billboards around the valley featuring the new buses, Mayor Oscar Goodman and Strip performers.
But about a month after the service opened, the RTC was hit with a lawsuit over the use of the ACE name; the same name is used by a local taxi company. The RTC subsequently dropped the use of the ACE name to avoid litigation and spent about $70,000 removing the ACE logos from buses and stations.
The ACE Gold Line became the Strip and Downtown Express and the ACExpress C Line became the Centennial Express.
Work continues on the Boulder Highway Express, once called the ACE Green Line, which is expected to open before next fall.
And the RTC expects to break ground on bus lanes on Sahara Avenue early next year for a similar bus route.
Still, future expansion of the express bus concept is in question. The next route the RTC wants to build is on Flamingo Road, but its application for federal stimulus funds was turned down.
While the RTC has been planning the express routes and transit centers for years, it was the stimulus that provided almost all of the money for them to be built.
With stimulus funds slowing down, RTC leaders may have to look to other sources for funds.
Snow said the Flamingo line will be his agency’s top request when he meets with other Nevada transportation officials to draw up the state’s federal requests for the next year.
Congress is expected to pass some sort of multi-year transportation bill next year, something that has been repeatedly stalled.
Snow said he thinks the bill will include funding for transit projects in Southern Nevada.
“In that bill, I think, you’ll see funding for some of these projects,” he said. “We just need it to pass, and hopefully it will pass in 2011.”