By Peter Moskowitz
Buses in Las Vegas are slow, expensive, and often late, but some of the city’s residents don’t have a choice.
On a recent relatively cool (90 degree) Wednesday afternoon, about 60 people slumped under the sparse shade provided at the Bonneville Bus Transit Center. The station, the size of a city block, is the dividing line between the glitzy Strip and the city’s impoverished North.
Cassie Linsey, a 27-year-old medical assisting student, was taking the bus as a last resort to get to school, because her husband had their car. She said she would rather have spent 15 minutes in the car, than one hour on a crowded bus.
Others were there as temporary solution while their car sat in an auto repair shop.
But for some, it’s a daily necessity they wish they could do without. And with fares set to increase by $5 for a monthly pass in September, the strain of taking public transit in such a sprawling city, is set to increase as well.
“I’m on the bus for eight hours every day,” said Nicole Stewart, a single mother who takes the bus from North Las Vegas, through the Bonneville Transit Center, to drop off her son at a babysitter. She then has to get on another bus to get to work at a Dollar General grocery store.
Stewart said if she gets off work past midnight, as she often does, she has to wait for five hours at her babysitter’s house for the buses to start running again before she can take her son home.
Stewart’s case may be extreme, but her frustrations are shared by many of the regular riders on the city’s residential bus routes.
Complaints at the Bonneville Transit Center on Wednesday ranged from laments about the lack of shade at many stops, to the frequent lateness of buses, which has caused some, like 18-year-old Geral Neishal to miss job interviews.
But perhaps the most frequent complaint was that the 30-year-old system isn’t worth the money. A one-way bus fare is $2, and there are no free transfers. Daily riders often opt for the month-long, $65 pass, which will cost $70 by September.
Angie DeMarco, a single mother of two, who makes minimum wage working at a 7-Eleven, said it’s simply too much money.
“I have to borrow from my boss to get a 30-day pass, just to get to and from work,” she said. “I’ve even walked to work because of it.”
Angela Torres, a public affairs person for the Regional Transit Commission of Southern Nevada said the bus system is, “a work in progress.” She added that although ridership had increased to 120,000 regular riders last year, Las Vegas will always be a car based city.
“We love our cars,” she said. “We don’t want to leave our cars behind.”
It’s safe to say Las Vegas’ transit system will never be like New York’s, but it could be better, according to Lisa Schweitzer, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute.
Schweitzer pointed out that because Las Vegas spread rapidly during years of real estate booms, when car-based transit was considered the norm, it will be hard to create a public transit system that can keep up.
But she said if the city focuses on making a hub-and-spoke bus system more efficient by studying ridership, and placing more emphasis on park-and-rides, the city could eventually make public transit more attractive to all its residents
But Schweitzer said those kinds of changes could take years. People like Nicole Stewart say it doesn’t have to take years.
She said if buses just ran a little more frequently, and cost a little less it would make life a lot easier.