He says one of the advantages he brought to the position was that he didn’t know anything about the transit industry. “I came in, I saw a lot of things that didn’t make sense to me that I wanted to change: the look, the shape, the feel of our bus system.
“To our community, a bus to them always meant some vehicle that looked like a toaster that was painted white rolling down the road. Just a square, boxy thing.
“We have probably the newest bus fleet of anybody in the country and we worked to get that way,” he says. “We have, I think, one of the most unique bus fleets of any bus system in the country and we’re very proud of that.”
One of the other things he remembers from when he first came to the RTC was that they would go to the board every summer and say it gets hot in the desert and when you’re on a bus, opening and closing doors all the time and there are a lot of people on the bus, it’s going to be hot on the bus. “That was the way it used to be when I got here 13 years ago. It’s no longer that way.
“We have different equipment and we have set a higher standard for when we buy new equipment and the industry has responded with more efficient equipment when it comes to keeping people comfortable on board a bus,” says Snow. “That used to be a huge issue for us here, but we responded and the industry responded. We got great equipment and you can be comfortable on a bus even when it’s hot outside.”
I ask Snow why they chose the vehicles they did and he explains one of the primary features is that they’re built with a stainless steel frame so that they last longer. “A typical bus under the federal government standard lasts for 12 years. What’s more challenging for us here is that we have some of our routes operating seven days a week, 24 hours a day and we put a lot more miles on a bus per year than any other system that I’m aware of.
“The equipment from overseas, it lasts longer and we might pay a little more for it, but we get a bus that lasts for 20 years.” He continues, “The frame is different, the components are different and we, quite frankly, the warranty service has been better and the overall customer service has been superior to anything we’ve purchased in North America.” He adds, “Sorry to say, but there’s a huge difference.”
The other vehicles that catch a lot of attention in the area are RTC’s double-decker buses. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Expo was held in Las Vegas in 2002 and the precursor to Alexander Dennis was exhibiting its double-decker bus. When Snow saw that, it reminded him of his experience from Hong Kong.
“When I was 19, I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a missionary for two years in Hong Kong and that’s a transit paradise,” Snow tells. “Every form of transit that I know of exists in Hong Kong.
“Most of the places I went, I went on a double-decker bus. I loved ... to get up there on the top and to enjoy the view and to get right up front in the windows; that was fun.”
When he saw the double-decker bus at Expo he thought that would be ideal for running on the Las Vegas Strip route. At that time, that route was losing riders. He says, “We made that change and overnight, the ridership went up by 40 percent.” He adds, “Ever since then, it’s generated every year, a multi-million dollar profit that has allowed us to deal with the depression, which is what it’s been like here; it hasn’t been a recession, it’s been a depression and it’s still going on.
“If it weren’t for what we have on the strip, I don’t know that we would have survived very well as a system.”
This past year they just broke records for ridership on the strip; in October they averaged 40,000 riders per day.
The double-decker bus costs as much as an articulated bus, even one that’s manufactured in North America, Snow says, but it takes up less space on the road, gets better gas mileage, better fuel economy and is a lot less for them to maintain.
“When it comes to saving money, we went with a vehicle that attracted 40 percent more riders, we reduced our maintenance cost significantly, our fuel economy went up; we liked the bus so much that we got a ton of additional buses to put on high-volume routes,” Snow says. “Whenever we put those coaches out, the ridership would go up seven or eight percent just because people like them.”