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Averill park, New York, United States
This is a blog that hopes to help with the confusion of bus riding in Vegas. Comments are encouraged. Spam is not encouraged. Comments that include websites will not be published. Allow time for moderation of all comments.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Bus compared with Car Rental

For me the bus rides are a fine part of the adventure of meeting strangers.  I like that as much as the gambling.  On live low limit poker tables it happens as well.  I was joking with three guys from Norway who paid $1000 in air to get to Vegas.  
"See,"  I said, "I've saved a grand because I get to meet you guys here, so I don't need to go to Norway." 

So the bus is like that.

But frankly, until this trip I was looking to shift my hotels to maybe long stretches at Super 8 close to where I play poker.   I thought the new BTC and the new decision to not give senior bus fare rates to tourist seniors was pushing me away from staying downtown.  Also, I have always thought of Flamingo as my main strip, but that bus service has been reduced.
Now the Gold Spike gives good value (even though it does charge a resort fee) that competes with Super 8:  free wifi, nicer heated pool, TCM and other stations on the TV, nicer room than Super 8. And it gives me location now as well.  I can get to Sam's Town in 12 minutes as contrasted with about 45 min. from Bill's on the 202.   I can get to and from the strip is so many ways that one of them will be ready and fast whenever I want to go out. 

And when I compare to a rental car:
By being able to drink, I gain about $40 in the value of free alcohol every day.
By being able to sometimes go on 3 hours of sleep a day, I actually realize more time at the poker tables than I would if I were driving and needed to rest.
I nap on the buses coming back to downtown because at the end they empty the bus at Fremont and I can't oversleep the stop.
So I am not certain that I would gain any time were I to go to Vegas for just 5 days.
However, playing live poker is different than popping around to play a bit here and a bit there on slots.  It requires an hour at the table to even know the competition well, so long hours are common for poker players, especially low limit.  At Flamingo I once changed tables twice to get the kind of opponents I could beat.  That takes time in one place.

So, I've totally switched back to being  a downtown guy again as long as I can get the good prices at the Gold Spike and patch in freebies.  
The host at Four Queens told me that I had gambled enough to get offers even though not enough to get my fourth night comped.  It was $24.  He also told me that if I took more rooms as a Binions poker player I could extend my stay at $24 a night without extending the need for gambling to keep my score high enough for mailings.  
Then I seeded the Fitz this time.  So I may get offers from them as well.  It is going to be owned by different folks, but still I might get offers.  Check out and Check in time from the Fitz means crossing on tiny street.  It is easy and can be easily coordinated with suitcase not brought out until the next room is booked.
So, the check in and check out waste of time, that seemed to be associated with moving from freebie to freebie,  is pretty much eliminated.  
If I can do a week at Gold Spike with no play, but rooms at $21 and $36 a night, and then do a week at Four Queens with 3 free and the others at $24. And add in two nights on the El Cortez coupons at $34, then my largest move might be to a Caesar's casino that has given me a couple free for poker play.  I have pretty much decided to not bother with free rooms at the Orleans.  That is too hard a move with heavy luggage.
My only other issue was if I felt safe coming back late at night to bus stops downtown.  I do.  They are all comfortable.  So that eliminates the need to go to the BTC and catch a bus to downtown from there.

I do have to walk sometimes a few blocks for a bus stop, but I've parked a rental in Vegas where I had to walk just as far from the parking lot, and then try to remember how to get back again to the car, and remember where I parked, and wake up enough to drive safely.

Cabs for a solo traveler are really expensive in comparison, especially if the trip is from the strip to downtown or to Boulder Highway.  For one such cab fare I can ride all month on the buses and go anywhere I like.

I understood the old argument that short term visitors to Vegas might not want to spend time on buses, but the bus time has been reduced by about 66%.  So for solo travelers who will pay just one fare everytime they move about, this is a good way to go.  
And all this does not even get into the built in insurance of the buses.  In Nevada, fatality statistics show 47 to 1 in favor of buses.  And for most fatalities it does not matter how well you drive.  They happen at stop lights when you are rear ended.
And then there are all sorts of insurance loop holes that make folks liable who think they have insurance.
So I also get peace of mind on buses.

I know this is not the way to go for many folks.  It is especially not the way to go for folks who need to be protected in a middle to upper class community to be comfortable.  Buses are middle to lower class communities and mixed racial experiences.
Of course, I like that part.  Those are more my people.  

But time is less of an argument.  In 23 days I rarely waited longer than a few minutes.  Once I waited 40 minutes and everyone was outraged, but that was on the 108 and a bus had broken down.  Rental cars can break down or need to be returned. That has happened to me with rentals in Vegas.

Friday, November 18, 2011

22 days of Vegas buses and a couple stories

note : I know that some people may be leaving soon and I want this information available, but I'll be rereading and tweeking it as I review my notes from this past 22 day trip to Vegas.  So if you have a while, revisit just before you to.

It has been a confusing year for me around buses and bus information. I thank all of you who helped me with personal anecdotes and information from phone calls and emails.
So, after my 6 hour flight, I just went directly from the airport on the WAX and got off at the BTC determined to straighten out a few things or just sleep there the first day until I got someone intelligent to talk to.

I spoke with Christine - Wow. What a mind! She knew the answers and went beyond them. She was willing to take the time, and she also called in her supervisor and assured me that I could call Tacy Bowers again and I'd get answers. And most important, she told me whenever she did not know something. She did not speculate.
I think we talked for forty five minutes.


First, 5 day passes are all access passes for everyone including tourists and we do not need local ID's. Just ignore that website chart. It is wrong. (edit in Feb.  The site was revised and still it does not list 5 day passes as all access.  What's wrong with them.  Do they want folks constantly confused?)

Passes can be bought at BTC or at any of the vendor's on that RTC vendor page.
(Not however at any strip Walgreen's.  Not at the new big one.  Clearly an attempt to isolate tourists and get more tourist dollars. edited Feb 2012) 

The reason one phone call to RTC  discouraged me from Walgreen's downtown is that Walgreen's has been running out of them. So call them before you go. They had them when I was there and Wild Bill bought one, although the clerk argued a while with me that they were $30 full price not $20. So she was just another idiot in the mix. The fellow who actually sold them came out with a clipboard and then she argued with him as well.
Christine also told me that it is possible to buy passes at Walgreen's and then have them ready at the airport when we get on the bus on future trip. If you buy a pass in the machine at the airport, you will pay the strip price. If you buy a 24 hour residential pass from the driver, you are technically not allowed to ride the Deuce or the SDX without a local ID.
Seniors from the airport going downtown can ride for a dollar one way and then buy an all access pass of some kind, either by stopping at the BTC or at Walgreens.
Seniors staying near the strip can take the dollar ride on the 109 to Maryland, look for the Albertson's there and get the 5 day.
For seniors, these 5 day passes are the way to go because they still can be purchased for $10 each with a senior ID. There is no senior reduced fare on the stip so one day costs $7. This is a huge difference.
RTC has in the past offered a reduced fare to senior and disabled users whether they were tourists or not. This year they have acted to separate senior tourists from the senior locals. They want as much as possible to make senior and disabled tourists pay full fare while having some window for senior and disabled locals to pay a reduced fare. So they have created a 5 day and a 30 day all access pass that is not available in common tourist areas (except the Walgreen's downtown)

The RTC may intend in a large way to put tourist seniors in second class status, but we don't have to comply because they have also given those of us who are savy bus riders a window of opportunity in the 5 day all access passes.
Christine also told me that to prove we are seniors we can use a Medicare card or a picture ID from our local bus system instead of the photo ID issued by the RTC. So those of you who are older seniors and want to spend just a dollar from the airport to downtown, but have not got a photo ID from the BTC can just show a Medicare card. At 60, well before Medicare, you can get an RTC photo ID just by stopping by the BTC and getting your picture taken. 20 minutes and it is good for 5 years. This is probably a good plan to avoid a hassle with some driver who does not know your Medicare card it good as proof. I was asked half a dozen times to show the ID, and so I started just showing it as I boarded. Flipping it out in my open wallet with the card in a plastic see through spot was enough proof, so that was easier than digging back in my wallet and the drivers appreciated it.  I was never asked for a local ID, but I had a 30 day pass. 


I have been hearing about folks who took luggage on the Deuce, so I asked about it. Christine said that all buses should allow my luggage. She could see it and so I appreciated that information. I carry a huge suitcase, the largest the airline will allow, and over my neck strap swings sleep apnea machine and a laptop.
However, I rode all the buses including the Deuce and got no argument. Bus drivers were very helpful. If they were not, Christine said that they needed to be "reeducated" so turn them in if you get a hassle.
Drivers are encouraged to be polite to riders with luggage, even my large suitcase. However, riders with a large number of suitcases might not be accommodated.
The rule is that it is to be kept in your seat space. Not blocking aisles. Not taking up a second seat. However, there is a good bit of space, even a spot near the front where we can stand with luggage. I found that the seats opposite the exit doors on the Deuce are the best. One even had a bit of room on the far right and my suitcase slipped right in there. Most of us traveling now on airplanes don't have a huge amount of luggage.
Now, if the bus is packed, the driver may not accommodate luggage. He may ask you to wait for the next bus. I would not travel at night with luggage on the Deuce up the crowded strip. There were times when I was shoulder to shoulder without luggage.
However, generally we need this service when we check out and check in to another hotel and we do that in the daytime. I'd be happy to check out early if it means an easy ride. I find in a good number of places that a room is available at 10 am but not later.
I asked so many times about this that Christine said, "How else are tourists to get from one hotel to another," as if I had missed the obvious need for that bus service.
I can't tell you how much this means to me. I was intending to go from the Four Queens comped rooms to Harrah's comped rooms and I thought I would need to catch a bus to the BTC, catch the 108, go to Flamingo, catch the 202 to the strip, and walk from Flamingo to Harrah's. As it turned out discussion board member Ian offered me a ride, so we could also meet up. But I could have gone right from downtown on the Deuce and gotten off right across the street from Harrah's.

At check out I decided to use up the time between checkout and airplane take off time with a buffet at Terribles. So on the way out I did the walk with luggage from Harrah's to Flamingo, took the 202 to Terribles, rolled my luggage into the little buffet room, and after a relaxing meal, caught the 108 to the airport.
However, the choices are simply mind boggling.


As well as 5 day passes (or 30 day passes like I bought,) ask for a little white paper with all the buses to get from the BTC to downtown. This is the size of a credit card and fits easily in your wallet.
Also get the schedule book for one dollar with all the bus maps and routes and schedules. You will find that between printing and the time you ride, the times of buses may have changed, but the routes are still pretty clear and the amount of time between buses will be pretty standard. I find the book cumbersome to carry, but good as a reference in the room.
At most bus stops now there is a full route map and a schedule so you can both see where the bus goes and when it should arrive. Buses were not always on time. Some, like the Centennial Express were early. So come a bit early.


The 202 generally comes up Flamingo to Boulder, turns right on to Boulder and then turns left and parks right next to the parking area at Eastside Cannery. It is a nice stop because feels very safe and because I can wait at the lobby at Eastside and only walk out when the bus arrives, since the driver will take a break there. However, that is not 24/7
Dead time for the 202 to Eastside Cannery is 2:14AM until 4:46AM.
During these hours I must walk to Nellis.

Boulder Highway buses stop in front of Sam's Town going North and in front of Walmarts going South.

Carson is the street that runs parallel to fremont. It is still in a very safe area.

Centennial Express. Less on weekend because the students are not in class. The stop to go to the transfer station (I won't use it) is on 4th back near Carson. Getting on the wrong way means wasting time.
Look for the other stop near Binions.
WAX The stop for Suncoast is there on Carson.
Again, I think Binions has the stop to go back to the airport.


For me this was the best development. I like things that happen along Boulder Highway. Sam's Town on Thursday has one of the best variety shows in Vegas, and it is both free and different every week. And I love the Eastside Cannery for a bit of poker and for their Latino lounge music on Monday nights. However, neither casino sends me offers.

The two buses that run Boulder both pick up and deliver on Ogden between the El Cortez and the Gold Spike. Since the El Cortez new resort fee after 7 days pushed me out and into the Gold Spike as my main casino, this is perfect for me. In days gone by this area was a bit sketchy, but there has been so much improvement that I did not find it that way at all, even very late at night.
The bus stops are about equidistant from both casinos. The Boulder Highway Express BXH makes all the stops along Boulder. The Henderson Downtown Express HDX is more of an express. However, it will stop at Sahara and then at Nellis, so it was taking me from downtown to Sam's Town in 12 minutes. I intended to spend a day in Henderson, but my feet gave out so walking around that little town was dropped off my list. However, the bus goes right into the downtown and there are interesting galleries there, a good diner, and some small casinos with decent VP pay tables and what has been reported to be interesting live poker. The stop at Sahara would also give me good access to Palace Station and I may try that next time.
These buses are the SDX style where the driver is tucked in his safe little cab and not to be talked to. I like these buses, but having a question was a bit difficult. There are no outside machines selling tickets. The ticket machine is inside and this is something most needin improvement. Everyone agreed that if you did not follow the directions exactly or if you took too long, then the machine ate your money. Better to already have a pass. Inspectors checked but even more rarely than they did on the SDX.
One other thing to note is that the BDX is stopping in very poor neighborhoods and will attract the lowest economic class of rider. For folks who are uncomfortable with that, the HDX is the better choice unless you want to go to Boulder Station or Arizona Charlies. And I did see characters on my lat night/early morning rides. Since the driver is less accessible, riders must deal with characters themselves. That being said, I asked one questions and found folks pretty friendly in giving answer. It is all new to everyone so it is not only tourists asking questions.


These have been some of my favorite routes, but the service has been cut back and for both me and Wild Bill these buses delayed out progress especially late at night.


We thought we were losing downtown as a flexible hub for travel when the new BTC was built so far away from the Fremont Experience.
That is not the case.
Not only are the Boulder Highway stops close to Fremont, but the Deuce and SDX, WAX and CX pick up and drop close to Fremont so to go most places tourists go from downtown we never need to stop at the BTC. Most of the time the buses just stop there, but do not enter. Once the SDX had a layover inside the BTC terminal.
I don't have all the stops down perfectly, so study the schedules. Stops of most use are those Ogden street stops, the stop along Binions, the stops along 4th between Carson and Walgreen's and the stop at Casino Center and Carson. the Fremont Experience changes where the buses drop. A walk around those areas to get familiar with what goes where is a good idea.
Twice I rode the WAX to Tropicana and then came back on the SDX or Deuce. I just happened to be there when the WAX was picking up to I went with it. I also used the CX to get to the strip around Fashion Strip Mall and it was faster than taking the Deuce.

The Deuce does much more winding around downtown than it once did. One interesting stop will put folks very close to the famous Televised Pawn Shop. Or if you want a bail bondsman, there are a cluster of them near the pawn shops and wedding chapels.
Still it takes a much longer time. The SDX does not run generally until 9 ( I did catch on earlier) so the Deuce is needed as it is after midnight.

I wandered out of the Thomas Mack Center on the UNLV campus in the dark and got twisted up as to where I was going. When I exited the campus I was very near a 108 bus so I just decided to take that to the BTC. However, it stopped near the Stratosphere where I could transfer and it was a well lighted stop adjacent to a Denny's. So I got off, had a late night breakfast and then took the Deuce that would drop me downtown. I liked this stop because right there was the glass walled Denny's and I was very visible and had a good escape route even near the Stratosphere. There were plenty of bus riders there as well.

Gradually now we can being to collect the safer places to wait for buses. This is a good one.
Also, we should collect places where changing buses also allows an easy visit to the restroom. Seniors especially may like having the option. So many of the restrooms are so far in to the casinos. However, if you are waiting to go North at LV Blvd and Tropicana, there is an MGM restroom right off the street. And that Denny's I mention has a restroom as well. I know, it sounds funny, but I also know that it isn't. I like my poker rooms with close restrooms as well.


This is doable, but is not easy. The BHX turns at Sunset, long before the Joker's Wild. The HDX skips the area. We got off at Sunset and caught the 402 where we found the only real rude bus driver who just did not want to help us find our way. We caught him again on the way back and he would explain nothing to either me or Wild Bill. I wish now I had taken his name or at least written down the time he drove the bus. The stop at the Joker's Wild was very dark, but we did not feel uncomfortable. The stop coming back was better. Craps was happening there, but we could not get a place at the table. They do dollar craps and use quarter chips to make the payoffs so everything is right mathematically. It is very popular and since a guy can play for hours on little bankroll, the table does not open spots.
I may try it again on my next trip as they are supposed to have a rather soft tournament there and some good food specials.


The Centennial Express is party routed to serve the needs of students going to the UNLV campus. So on weekends it is less frequent. It has an unusual winding route that is more efficient than the Deuce in getting to the Fashion Mall or to the campus where it turns and drops right near one fine cactus garden. It goes up Flamingo, but it does not stop many places so it is a fine way to go from downtown, and again makes downtown a hub of bus opportunity. The campus is huge so landing more in the middle is helpful.


Wild Bill and I took the WAX to Suncoast to see the place, use a coupon, and play some poker. I liked the poker, but it was a bit loose. I made money, but I got good cards. There were very nice to us at the poker room. None of the gruff attitude that we have found in some rooms.

It was a great ride and it dropped right in front of the casino and was easy to take back as well.


Personally, since I always go for more than 15 days, the 30 day pass is the best bargain for me.  For the cost of three 5 day passes, I get total coverage.  I expect I will stay almost exclusively downtown now and take buses somewhere almost everyday.
5 day passes bought at Walgreen's are not activated until you get on the bus or activate in a machine for the SDX and Boulder buses. So those are a good bargain, especially for seniors.  5 days for seniors for $10 each as compared with 3 days in strip machines for $20 or one day for $7.
It is a great advantage having the pass in pocket.  Many of the buses do not have a driver who checks fares, but inspectors who may or may not come on the bus.  Also, three times I ran to catch a bus.  Had not had a pass in my pocket I would have had to hasstle with suitcase and money on the way into the Deuce or I would have missed the SDX.
Finally, the most poorly designed fare boxes are those on the Boulder Highway buses.  You have to select a fare, and then confirm it, and then put in exact change.  If the money goes in first of if you take too long to make decisions and you options go off the active screen, you just lose your money and have to start over.  I guess there is a way to recover it at a bus office, but who wants to do that?


The Four Queens seemed to offer the best discount for food which could be achieved by showing a bus pass.  However, the senior discount is just the same at Magnolia's so all I really needed was my senior status.
I did not try out the bus pass as discount in other places.  However, RTC is still promoting it to locals, urging them to be a tourist in their own town.

I had so much free food this trip that I did not have too many windows of opportunity to use discounts.  2 for 1 coupons give a better deal and we had a ton of them with everybody holding a soon to expire American Casino Guide as well as current Fremont Experience coupons.


Now I am unpacked and I don't seem to see my bus book, sot perhaps I left it somewhere along the way.
My memory may not be perfectly accurate, but I believe that The stop at Binions (called Casino Center at Fremont on the route maps) is the place to catch the SDX or the WAX or the CX going South, but they will drop us back downtown at 4th and Carson.
The stop at Neonopolis is where the Deuce picks up and it will drop at 4th near Walgreens.

Each of these stops is well marked as to which bus stops where, so a walk around to see all of them early in your visit is helpful.


So, to give an anecdotal example of how the buses make Vegas easy, let me report on one Thrusday.
I am staying at the Gold Spike and I decide to see the free senior variety show at Sam's Town. I also have these free tickets I got on senior day at the Orleans and I want to see a later comedy show there.
In 12 minutes on the HDX I arrive at Sam's Town, getting off at Ellis Island. The hardest part of the whole trip is crossing the street here. I have to wait a long while and if I want to make both sides of Boulder in the time allowed, I have to run across the first side.
I still play just $20 of video poker, break even and quit. Then I go early to get really good seats for the show, which is just great. When I write it up, I'll try to link here.
I have time to eat, so I get the Sam's Town steak night buffet on my Boyd points. It is fine also. I like the steak they serve. This is my second visit on Steak night. I also like the little crispy bits of deep fried carnitas in the Mexican section. I like the navy bean soup that has so much more than beans in it. I like that I can get my own coffee when I want it and that there are little packets of honey to put into it.
My last visit in May I went on Italian night and I did not like the buffet.
After a good supper, I run back across the street and catch the BHX. It stops at Tropicana. It is a little walk to the stop around the corner, but I have met a nice woman on the bus from Pennsylvania who is now living in Vegas, and she walks me there to finish our conversation. She lives nearby.
The Tropicana bus takes me to the Orleans. It does have the only surly bus driver I have met. She is nice to me and most of us, but she gets in a huge argument with a young Black girl who boarded the bus in the back and refuses to leave. It is disconcerting, but I am not in a hurry.
The girls feels disrespected and says she will leave when security comes. These is some bumping and we know that she may be arrested. A gentle, well dressed Black woman goes up to her and slips her some money and quiety talks here into backing down.
As we go along the bus driver is still ranting about it. She is a case of nerves. I can't figure out if she is Black also or perhaps Latino.
I've had enough so I say,
"Okay, you won and its over. Let's just ride along,"
and she says,
"I never win!"
but she stops venting.
I do believe that she never wins. I taught inner city Black kids just like this girl and I understand that there is a point where they will go to jail just to assert that they will not be shouted at.
Also on the Tropicana bus there has been a young man sitting next to me who works part time in pawn shop and we talk about that. I suggest the old black and white movie, The Pawnbroker, but I remember the title as the Pawnshop, so I suppose he will not find it.
In the conversation an old, disheveled guy sitting across the row, adds bits of information I have forgotten and says that we could not take a film course without encountering this film. And there it is. A character I might take for a derelect, speaks like a college professor.
At the Orleans I go to the new comedy club, Big Al's, a very comfortable place that I like very much.
I try to .
I take the Orleans shuttle to Bill's and play poker at the Flamingo for as long as I can manage, and then I ride the Deuce back to downtown, catching it in front of the new Margaritaville, so I can listen to Jimmy Buffet while I wait.