Plan aims to speed up public transit

Most Las Vegans have never warmed to the idea of public transportation. Of course, that was before $4.23 a gallon for regular gasoline became the norm at valley stations.

Because of high fuel prices, state transportation officials have noted, traffic on major roadways such as Interstate 15 has dropped, and bus ridership is up more than 700,000 fares from the same period last year.

As more commuters turn to alternate modes of transportation, planners for the Regional Transportation Commission will unveil today a plan meant to change the perception about public transit in the valley.

“The whole idea is how to speed the service up and make it faster,” said Jacob Snow, general manager for the Transportation Commission.

While developing the plan, Snow said, surveys and focus groups showed many commuters viewed the current transit system as slow and unreliable.

The main challenge planners faced was to get commuters who live in the outer portions of the valley to come out from behind the wheels of their cars and get them to take public transit to their jobs — most of which are located in the resort corridor, from downtown Las Vegas to the Strip.

To do this, planners want to set up express stations in the outer valley, which commuters could drive to. They would park and hop on an express bus that will have few, if any, stops, heading to the inner valley.

“We need to get away from (buses) that stop every 500 feet,” Snow said. By increasing the speed of the transit route, public transportation would appeal to more people, he said.

The plan will be phased in. Commuters in the northwest valley will be the first to be able to take advantage of the plan in the fall 2009.

The express bus will start its route at the park-and-ride facility at Ann Road and U.S. Highway 95 and make its way to downtown Las Vegas. The express bus would use the high occupancy vehicle lane on U.S. 95 to provide a higher likelihood for a quick commute.

Currently, a bus trip from the northwest valley to downtown might take more than an hour using Citizens Area Transit. Under the proposed express route such a trip would take only 26 minutes, Snow said.

But speeding up the service is not the only goal.

To make the plan more attractive to riders, the idea is to have sleek, modern-looking buses that run on hybrid engines and provide wireless technology for laptop computers, Snow said.

“To have public transit be successful, you need to attract someone from behind the wheel of a car,” Snow said. And when that happens, there will be a beneficial effect on congestion and air quality and some of the other negative affects of sprawl, he said.

In the end, environmental and other concerns are not likely to motivate commuters as much as the price of filling the tank. And experts are predicting $5 to $7 for a gallon of regular gasoline in the summer of 2009.

Snow said as the plan is phased in, park-and-rides would be developed at Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in the south valley and at Durango and Westcliff drives in the northwest valley.

Snow said there would be minimal costs to implement the plan. Several buses would need to be redeployed to different routes. He said park-and-ride areas could be created by entering into agreements with churches or shopping centers that already have unused parking spaces.

Snow also said that by moving people faster, fewer buses would be needed on the roads, and operating costs of the transit system would decrease. He added that costs to riders to use the express buses would fall in line with current costs to use public transit.

Snow and his team will ask the Transportation Commission whether planners should move forward with this approach or look for other ways to improve ridership.

The new transit strategy was born after Mayor Oscar Goodman a year ago urged transportation planners to find out how they can increase the number of commuters using public transit.

The percentage of people who commute using public transit in the valley is about 4 percent.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.

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