Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Impressions of the Las Vegas Monorail

The Las Vegas Monorail over Paradise RdImage via Wikipedia If you lived in Salt Lake City before the first TRAX line opened in '99 you may remember that there was a big campaign by the monorail folks to saying that a monorail should be built instead of light rail. What was interesting about the campaign is that it was run by some group that had offices in Seattle, Salt Lake City, and one other city and called the Wilmore Group. What was interesting about the whole thing was there was no website for the company and if you wanted to contact their Salt Lake office you could only get a recording or send a fax. Well Salt Lake went for Light Rail and it has been successful.

However the monorail folks did have two successes although one of them is in financial trouble now before turning a lick of dirt. Las Vegas now has a monorail operating and Seattle approved funding for theirs but there is many issues now.

The Las Vegas Monorail opened last year only to be closed for some time because of a drive train falling from one of the trains (that can hurt!) and reopened right before the first of the year.

The Seattle folks used the Las Vegas monorail as a example of a transit system that could be built and run without support from the taxpayers and used this example in getting voter approval for the Seattle proposal. Of course this does not take into account that Las Vegas is unique and that the casinos payed for portions of the line and that the financing package just wouldn't work in most cases, but has been used to bash light rail lines.

This past Thursday I had my first ride on the Las Vegas Monorail. I drove down to the Sahara Resort and board the train at the end of the line. The fare is $3.00 or you can buy and all day pass for just $10.00 (twice the cost of a all day pass for CAT that allows you to ride their entire system!)

There was a train sitting in the station but it was not taking passengers. In a few minutes a train showed up. I boarded the train and a few minutes later we where on our way. Here are a few observations of the trip:

1. Most of the ridership rides from the MGM stop to the Harrah's stop which is the last one on the strip. Few people rode beyond to the Hilton and the Sahara but that changes when there is a convention in town.

2. The monorail does not have smooth ride. While there has been some criticism of Light Rail because it bounces some, it is much smother than the ride on the monorail. It sways back and forth severely and will give some people motion sickness.

3. Wynn has a shuttle from the Convention Center station to The Wynn Resort and it is actually buses. So people who can afford the Wynn will ride buses!! However the bus station is across the street from the escalator to the monorail.

4. There is very little coordination from CAT to the monorail but since this is a separate system and has nothing to do with CAT there is obvious reasons why. However if it does get extended to Downtown there will need to be better coordination between CAT and the monorail.

5. One of the reasons monorailist use to justify a monorail line is speed, but don't look for it in the Vegas monorail. It automated message brags when it hits 50mph! (TRAX can go up to 55mph and some other systems can go 65mph).

6. It doesn't take much of a load before it is SRO. There is not much seating available on the monorail, plus it has fixed consists which means it can add cars easily like light rail, so even small loads overwhelm the cars.

While monorail may have a purpose, it is designed mainly to be a feeder in dense urban areas. If you look at many Pacific Rim countries they have monorails that feed into other transit systems that handle the main commuting.

What monorail is not the greatest thing since sliced bread that many make it out to be.
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