I'm adding this article into the next version of Vegas Mate but it looks very useful so I decided to publish on the Web as well.
Read after the jump to get the low-down on public transportation options, from our very own mike_ch.
The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada maintains a mass transit system in the valley, in addition to maintaining road maintenance and planning.
Probably the most important thing a visitor needs to know about the system is that it has a bit of a split personality between serving locals who live here, and tourists on vacation. Premium routes catering to tourists have higher frequencies and can have waits of 12-15, but at the same time they cost a lot more to ride. All other routes can have a frequency of one bus every 30, 45, or even 60 minutes; though the busiest ones bisecting or running close to the Strip can have 15 minute intervals.
What are the hours?
Both routes on the Strip are 24 hours, and a few local routes (such as 109 to the Airport) are also all-nighters, though frequency drops in the very late/early period. If it's after 2AM, expect buses every 30 minutes or so.
How does it work?
The RTC is a region-wide network with two major hubs for connections, both are close to the tourist corridor. The Downtown Transit Center (DTC) is two blocks north of Fremont Street behind Binions and Fremont hotels. The South Strip Transit Terminal (SSTT) is about a mile south of McCarran Airport.
The DTC will be replaced with another facility a couple miles south of the Downtown hotels, probably by 2011. Unless you plan to leave the tourist corridor to visit the rest of the city, visitors staying Downtown need not ever visit it. The area can often be sketchy, perhaps dangerous at night, and all routes connecting you to the Strip stop somewhere on Fremont (see below).
The SSTT is newer and has a larger security presence. Both the ACE and Deuce buses that run up and down the Strip use it as a southernmost terminus, and riders going back north must switch to another bus.
Is it worth it? Or should I use something else instead?
Compared to the Monorail: In the vast majority of cases, the RTC will get you where you want to be at a much lower cost than the Las Vegas Monorail. RTC buses also stop directly in the front of hotels on both sides of the Strip, whereas the Monorail is only on the east side, behind the casinos. However, RTC buses navigate traffic, and the Monorail doesn't. So if you're looking to get from MGM Grand to the Sahara or Convention Center, the Monorail will do it much faster than even the express ACE routes, but it'll cost you. The Monorail also shuts down in the evening sometime between midnight and 3AM.
Compared to a cab: For one or two visitors, the RTC is likely a cheaper proposition. For the same price of a couple cab rides, two people can go anywhere in the city for 72 hours. But with large parties, those fares add up and taxis that can hold four or more people (especially the minivans) could be a better deal if the entire party is moving everywhere as a group. Cabs also have closer access to hotels, just outside the lobby in most cases. At some hotels like MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, getting to the Strip sidewalk is a long walk.
What hotels are easiest/hardest to reach a bus stop from?
These hotels have good access in both directions: Bellagio, Excalibur, Flamingo, Mirage, Palazzo, Palms, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Treasure Island, Tropicana, Venetian, Wynn Las Vegas
These hotels have long walks or require walking to other properties: ARIA, Bally's, Caesars Palace, Encore, Harrah's, Hooters, Luxor (southbound OK), Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Vdara
Tell me about the routes.
The RTC has numerous regular routes, and two premium-priced routes that serve The Strip. The two premium routes are The Deuce and ACE.
The Deuce is a route of double-decker buses that travels almost entirely down Las Vegas Boulevard, veering off only when it reaches the Downtown hotels. It stops at almost every hotel along the way. The biggest exceptions are New York New York and the CityCenter complex (ARIA, Mandarin Oriental, Vdara), which are reached by leaving at Excalibur and Bellagio, respectively. All the stops and the traffic can make the Deuce very slow, taking an average of 45 minutes between Downtown hotels and Tropicana Ave, and that's if traffic isn't jammed. For moving the distance between Treasure Island and Bellagio, the Deuce is fine. From Tropicana to the Venetian, you'd do better to first get in the area via ACE.
ACE (officially ACE Gold Line) has fewer stops, and so it covers more distance in a shorter period of time.
Residential routes serve all other roads, including streets that bisect the strip like Flamingo Rd. The average visitor will probably not use any of these unless they want to go to off-strip attractions or hotels.
Can I go to/from the Airport?
Route 108 (Paradise) and Route 109 (Maryland Parkway) serve McCarran Airport. Buses are located at the airport's ZERO level, which is a ground level terminal for limousines, buses, and commercial vehicles. From the baggage claim, find the elevators in the middle of the room for a ride to this level. It requires a bit of a hunt compared to taxis, which conveniently are located just outside baggage claim. Getting in to the airport from buses is easier, thanks to a (one-way) escalator.
With a premium route pass, the fastest way to the Strip from the Airport involves using Route 109 south (make sure you ask if the bus is going south) to the SSTT, then an ACE between the SSTT and the closest hotel. For going to the airport, take the trip in reverse. On a regular pass, 108 and 109 connect with many east/west routes bisecting the Strip, such as Flamingo, Tropicana, or Sands Ave.
Luggage on the buses is up to the discretion of the driver. If you have lots of luggage, or oversized suitcases, consider a taxi instead.
What's the most efficient route from (x) to (y)?
The RTC's stations and scheduling is fully integrated into Google Maps. Use the Maps application on your iPhone for directions and select the bus button at the top of the screen. Google is not quite aware of the whole ticketing system, and might suggest a Deuce in situations where an ACE will be faster.
How much does it cost?
Lately RTC fares have been changing every year, and sometimes almost randomly. The current fares can usually be found at rtcsnv.com but sometimes even that page can be inaccurate.
Most guests on the Strip or Downtown will buy tickets from vending machines placed on the Strip. The most common fare is a 24 hour pass. Multi-day fares are also available for three or five days. The machines do not dispense change. If you're planning on a very long stay, 30 Day passes are sold at a window at the two transit terminals.
The ACE has no on-board ticketing and fares must be purchased in advance at the vending machine or elsewhere. Fare verification is accomplished by random checks by on-board transit police, who may ask to see your ticket. The Deuce has an onboard fare box but has been trying to discourage buying tickets on the bus so that buses may move faster. Residential routes have slightly cheaper day passes and a farebox on board, though these cheaper day passes must be 'upgraded' for Deuce/ACE use at a vending machine.
Where does the bus stop?
Downtown, ACE and Deuce stops southbound at a station along Las Vegas Blvd next to Neonopolis, and stops northbound between Neonopolis and Fitzgeralds.
On the Strip, most bus stops are at the sidewalk in front of the hotel. There are only a few exceptions, such as the Sahara ACE stop behind the hotel (near the Monorail station). On residential routes, the bus stops immediately after crossing most intersections.
How can I get the front seat on top of a Deuce?
Riding above the driver in a Deuce can be a fun, affordable way to tour the Strip with a view above the traffic. Your best chance is to be one of the first to board a departing bus at one of the two terminus points, the DTC or SSTT. There's four seats to a row, so try to be one of the first four to board for your best chance. Buses departing from the DTC tend to not have eager gawkers loading up front, though when it reaches the Fremont stop at Neonopolis the bus can become packed.
Where else can I go?
Many off-Strip hotels are reachable over RTC, although some of them aren't. 105 (Flamingo) westbound can be picked up outside Caesars (at the station facing Bellagio) to visit Palms, Rio, and Gold Coast. If you want to go to an off-Strip hotel, contact the hotel and ask if it runs a private shuttle (M Resort, Rio, and Hard Rock have been known to do this) and you may save time and money.
Boulder Highway hotels should best be reached from the Strip via Flamingo eastbound. The bus loops just after it reaches Boulder, and Sam's Town and Eastside Cannery are both within walking distance. Another route, 107, travels up and down Boulder Highway and connects to the DTC downtown.
Two outlet malls are reached via ACE: Las Vegas Outlet Center in the south just before the SSTT, and Las Vegas Premium Outlets in the north reached by continuing to ride north past Downtown.
Other off-strip attractions around the city may be reachable via RTC, try routing directions with your iPhone's Maps application and see. Two very notable attractions not reachable on transit are the Hoover Dam and nature preserves like Red Rock Canyon. To visit these, consider renting a car or inquiring with your hotel about charter tours.
I need help not listed here!
Live rider assistance can be found by calling 1-800-228-3911 between the hours of 7AM and 7PM (hours subject to change).