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Big Bus tour operator moves closer to sharing Las Vegas Strip and Downtown stops

Big Bus rolled closer to operating on the Strip — at least temporarily.

In an unusually divided 5-3 vote, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada’s board of directors agreed Thursday to negotiate a six-month trial contract that would allow the private tour bus company to share four stops with the popular Deuce and Strip &Downtown Express routes.

The board is scheduled to consider a formal contract with Big Bus during a public hearing set for next month.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, Mesquite Councilman David Ballweg and Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian voted against the plan, saying Big Bus would create direct competition with the RTC’s Deuce and Strip &Downtown Express routes.

The dual tourist lines are among the most profitable in the country, generating up to $9 million in profit annually and helping to pay for residential service in other parts of the Las Vegas Valley.

However, that combined profit is projected to drop by roughly $1.5 million by the end of this year due to a rising rivalry with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, said M.J. Maynard, the RTC’s deputy general manager.

Giunchigliani warned that additional competition from Big Bus could lead to bigger profit losses for the RTC’s existing routes along the Strip.

“I want them to succeed as a company, but sharing stops does not benefit the RTC,” Giunchigliani said.

A preliminary draft of the contract shows that Big Bus would pick up and drop off riders from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily at RTC-owned stops in front of the Tropicana, a Fatburger restaurant at 3763 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, Planet Hollywood and a Walgreens pharmacy at 2427 S. Las Vegas Boulevard.

Big Bus would not be charged during the six-month trial period, which would allow the company and RTC officials to study ridership. It was unclear whether Big Bus would pay to use the RTC’s facilities if a long-term contract is eventually reached.

“The RTC’s job is not to prevent people from partnering with our agency,” said County Commissioner Larry Brown, who serves as the RTC board chairman. “To think that it’s our right-of-way, and no one can touch it, I don’t think that’s sound thinking.”

Big Bus had previously tried to reach a deal in 2014, but the RTC board said the company should directly negotiate for its own stops with the city of Las Vegas and Clark County.

Big Bus representatives met several times with county officials, but the sides could not agree on ideal areas that could cater exclusively to tour buses, said Las Vegas attorney Kimberly Maxson-Rushton, who represents the sightseeing company.

Big Bus, a sightseeing company that shuttles tourists in double-decker buses, already operates a route in downtown Las Vegas and another that stops at several back-of-the-house location at Strip properties.

Allowing the tour buses to stop directly along the Strip would enhance the passenger experience, Maxson-Rushton said.

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Find @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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