Salvaging the monorail
There’s still a way to make the formerly bankrupt people mover a useful tool here
It’s official. The Las Vegas Monorail Co. is out of bankruptcy.
The last steps of the process occurred with little fanfare this month, and the city’s most controversial mass transportation system continues to chug along its elevated track on the east side of the Strip.
Ridership was down 12.8 percent in the third quarter of 2012 compared with the same quarter a year ago, but because the company restructured its fares, revenue for the period fell only 4.1 percent, to $4.8 million for the quarter. For the year to date, ridership was down 18.7 percent, to 3.1 million people, and revenue was down 19.1 percent, to $14.1 million.
The company cited the May 2011 closure of the Sahara, the northern terminus of the route, as a big reason for the decline.
But in a recent interview with the monorail’s top executives, I sensed cautious optimism for the system’s future. And although countless critics have savaged the monorail and want to see it torn down, it’s a system worth keeping, and even building on.
Even the toughest critics say the monorail would have much more value if it connected the Strip to McCarran International Airport. But some of the city’s tourism leaders see another potential growth strategy.
The monorail is most useful during major conventions. With parking at a premium or nonexistent during big events such as the International Consumer Electronics Show, the Las Vegas Convention Center monorail stop is a choice alternative for delegates.
How great would it be if the other major convention centers in town had similar monorail stops?
Based on the current route structure, it’s not a stretch to consider it.
The existing track winds past the Sands Exposition Center at Koval Lane and Sands Avenue (a street that changes names three times in a mile). How tough would it be to engineer a monorail stop between the existing Convention Center and the Flamingo/Imperial Palace stations?
The bigger challenge would be to convince Las Vegas Sands to chip in to pay for the station.
The other major convention center is at Mandalay Bay. While there’s already a monorail-like people mover along the front of the Excalibur, the Luxor and Mandalay Bay, it may be easier to engineer a route that continues south from the MGM Grand before swinging west to Mandalay Bay. If a stop were built somewhere on the south end of the property, the route could even be continued across Interstate 15 to the presumed location of the XpressWest train station.
Ridership should increase if the convention centers are connected. And that could bring in the necessary revenue to convince investors to extend the monorail to McCarran, presumably on a circuitous route that would pass the Thomas & Mack Center and the proposed UNLV Now football stadium.
A route that connects two major transportation facilities, the airport, a train station and some of the city’s largest traffic generators — our convention centers and sports facilities at UNLV, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and, if it is built, Caesars Entertainment’s arena — would make the monorail a useful transportation system that even locals would use.