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Las Vegas Aims for Clean Transit With Zero-Emissions Buses

A yearly assessment by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy knocked the city for inefficient transportation. Planned changes include buying more hydrogen-powered buses.

Las Vegas Traffic
(TNS) — An annual clean energy assessment knocked Las Vegas for its inefficient transportation, something the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and city of Las Vegas plan to improve with a revamped bus system and complementary pedestrian connections.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's annual scorecard evaluations placed Las Vegas 38th out of 75 U.S. cities, with an overall score of 27% based on the scorecard's 250-point scale.

Marco Velotta, chief sustainability officer for the city, said that by 2050 the city aimed to put bus services within a half-mile of 75% of the city's population and for 100% of the population to have access to some form of public transportation.

In 2021, 80% of the population fell within that half-mile threshold, but in 2022 that number fell to 77% because of new construction in Summerlin and northwest Las Vegas, where transit is scarce.

"If you have density, if you have transit-oriented development, if you have a heavy or light rail system ... you can concentrate more dwelling units and more people around those transit stops and make it easier for people to move around," Velotta said.

Las Vegas is modifying its zoning ordinance for certain downtown districts to allow for more walkability, he said. The city also plans to modify transit-related policies in high-traffic areas like Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard.

"That's been kind of a missing link we haven't gotten to just yet, but we're getting really close on having something that we can put out there that will help set the stage and impetus for more transit-friendly improvements," Velotta said.

He said Stewart Avenue — from downtown to Nellis Boulevard — was in line for a grant-funded refurbishing with better bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

"The idea is to make it more conducive to walking and biking," Velotta said. "It's reducing dependence on the auto and parking."

The RTC is also working toward being more efficient, and officials there say the RTC has long recognized the need to reduce carbon emissions.

The RTC started its transition last year to a 100% fleet of zero emission buses by debuting two hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. It used a $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to purchase the buses that don't produce greenhouse gas emissions, like gasoline or diesel.

"There are some trade-offs," said David Swallow, the RTC's deputy CEO. "One of our concerns is how effectively they can operate in our hot months. Summer months can be extreme. What kind of range are we going to get when they're having to run the air conditioning so hard?"

Swallow estimated that transitioning the entire fleet to zero emissions vehicles would take until 2050, depending on funding.

The transportation commission in 2010 started transitioning from diesel buses to ones using natural gas, he said, because fuel costs exceeded $20 million. According to Cummins Inc., a manufacturer whose products include both diesel and natural gas engines, in 1993 diesel fuel, on average, was about 33% more expensive than an equivalent amount of compressed natural gas.

The current paratransit fleet is 100% natural gas while the fixed route fleet is about 80% natural gas, except for diesel double-decker buses, he said.

The RTC plans to purchase another 20 hydrogen buses, 15 of which will run on the $300 million Maryland Parkway Bus Rapid Transit system opening in 2026. Construction on the 13-mile route connecting the UNLV School of Medicine to the South Strip Transit Terminal will begin this year, Swallow said.

The Maryland Parkway project will include more efficient bus routes, along with bike lanes, raised medians with landscaping, wider sidewalks and better bus shelters.

"We're reconstructing it as a more complete street," Swallow said.

He said Maryland Parkway was the most heavily used route in the system aside from the Las Vegas Strip. Between 35,000 and 40,000 cars travel its busiest sections each day.

"It's a heavily used transit route that connects to a lot of major routes, but also has a number of destinations along the corridor," Swallow said.

The project is intended to spur transit-oriented development throughout Las Vegas Valley, the RTC said.

Of the 25 planned stations, the city and county selected seven that will serve as hubs for more pedestrian connections, bike lanes and other carless transportation. The city, county and RTC will also plan housing and commercial developments in those areas around the transit infrastructure.

©2024 the Las Vegas Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.