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September 30, 2014

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Private companies hope to use public bus stops for Las Vegas shuttle services

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A Regional Transportation Commission bus shelter covered with “green” posters advocating public transportation and energy conservation is displayed in front of The Alexander Dawson School in Summerlin on Friday, July 27, 2012.

A downtown Las Vegas startup has big plans to make it easier for workers to get around without a car. But there’s a catch — the company wants to use public bus stops to pick up and drop off passengers, raising questions about whether private companies should be able to profit from public infrastructure.

The proposal from Shift is one of two requests submitted in recent months to the Regional Transportation Commission from businesses hoping to use bus stops. The other is from Big Bus, a tour bus company that wants to pick up and drop off passengers on the Las Vegas Strip.

Shift founder Zach Ware said the shuttle service would be targeted at downtown workers and residents looking to make short trips.

“What we find interesting is helping people who are working at Zappos or the courthouse more easily get to parts of the downtown core if they want to go to lunch or run a quick errand,” Ware said.

Similar shuttle services in the San Francisco Bay Area have recently come under fire. Private shuttles there run by tech companies exclusively for their employees have drawn ire from activists who say they’re receiving special treatment.

Shift’s model would be membership-based, meaning anyone who subscribes could access the shuttles, cars or bikes that are planned to be part of the service.

RTC board members say they’re open to sharing public bus stops with private companies, but several potential roadblocks stand in the way.

“First and foremost is it legal?” said RTC board chairman and Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown. “Secondly, is there any, and I mean any, potential adverse impact to our (bus) service? That’s a nonstarter.”

Many bus stops are on private property not owned by the RTC, meaning adding new services could require agreements with landowners to be rewritten.

Officials would also potentially have to deal with other businesses hoping to get in on the action.

“Does that open up the Pandora’s box? Are we then going to be unable to say no to a dozen similar requests?” Brown said.

RTC staffers are researching these issues and are due to report back to the board next month.

If the legal challenges are solved, a pilot program could be launched later this year to see whether adding private shuttles into the mix slows service for RTC bus riders.

Close attention will be paid to the Strip, where congestion on Las Vegas Boulevard is already high. About 40,000 people ride RTC buses along the Strip each day.

Big Bus already operates its open-top buses for sightseeing tours on the Strip, but it can pick up and drop off passengers only at private parking lots. A one-day ticket to ride the Big Bus costs $39 for adults. The company did not return a request for comment.

"I'm concerned about delays in our own system, especially on Las Vegas Boulevard. It's so tight down there," said Las Vegas City Councilman and RTC board member Steve Ross. "I'm more inclined to help the larger employers (downtown) than I am private tour companies."

Watch the RTC Board of Commissioners discuss the proposals at its July board meeting:

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