There’s nothing subtle about Las Vegas: the strip, the lights, the extreme desert summers and yes, even its transit. As I was boarding the SDX, an articulated Wright Group StreetCar RTV, at the South Strip Transfer Terminal with my luggage in tow, a tourist with a Texan accent proclaims, “Woah, this sure is a futuristic vehicle!”
The stylish vehicles have three entrances, off-board payment, interior bike racks, and features perimeter seating and lounge-style seating in the rear.
“This is Las Vegas; we have to be different and we have to stand out,” says Jacob Snow, the general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC). “There are a lot of other things competing for attention in this town.”
And it’s not just all that there is to see and do in this 24/7 town, it’s the fact that anywhere you go in Las Vegas, parking is free. Many may require a simple validation from the establishment for free parking but many of the massive parking lots alongside casinos and attractions are all, simply, free.
Snow states, “It makes transit a very tough sell here, so we have to be more competitive. We have to compete with the automobile more effectively than other places do because we don’t have that pricing advantage for other towns where they charge for parking everywhere they go.”
Managing all transportation
The RTC oversees the transit authority, the traffic management systems and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Southern Nevada. The RTC started as a street and highway agency with funds set aside to build local roads, and then in the 1980s it was named the MPO for Southern Nevada. Transit was added in the 90s and the traffic management role was added in 2004.
Snow says, “It’s a dream. I talk to many of our peers in the transit industry around the country and some of them have great relationships with their MPO and some of them don’t.
“Those that have great relationships with their MPO, it’s still an additional bureaucracy; it’s still an additional step that they have to go; it’s still additional work that they have to do.” He continues, “For us, those barriers don’t exist. The same board that runs the transit agency is the same board for the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“It’s very seamless for us; there aren’t barriers, there aren’t silos that we have to deal with, there aren’t hoops we have to jump through.”
The Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation (FAST) is an integrated intelligent transportation system (ITS) operated by RTC. FAST monitors and controls traffic through freeway and arterial management, traffic condition detection, and traffic control.
Brian Hoeft, FAST director, took me to the room where it’s all monitored and there is access to the more-than 300 cameras on the freeways and surface streets where they monitor everything and where the Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) dispatch is also located.
The key to monitoring it is to understand the patterns, Hoeft says. “If you see an abnormality, you can trace it back to the cause.” That not only helps them in directing or redirecting traffic to mitigate congestion, but the transit side is getting that information in real-time, as well.
New ideas to transit
Prior to heading the RTC, Snow was the assistant director of aviation for McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. He went to work for the airport out of college and worked his way up.
While it is an airport, there is also a lot of surface transportation, including the automated fixed-guidway system between terminals. While there, he was also responsible for getting the first leg of a freeway to the airport built, including a tunnel underneath the runway.
“When there was a vacancy at the Regional Transportation Commission, I started getting calls and threw my hat in the ring,” Snow says, “and got the job after about a 9-month national search.”