By Richard N. Velotta, June 1, 2014
The Las Vegas Monorail arrives at the Harrah's/The Quad stop in Las Vegas on Monday, May 19, 2014.
Ridership is up, the economy is improving, new attractions are
opening, so let’s just cut to the chase about the Las Vegas Monorail:
When will Las Vegas see a line extension to McCarran International
Curtis Myles chuckles at the question.
that every day,” the CEO of the Las Vegas Monorail Co. said. “And when I
see my dad every Sunday, he asks me the same question.”
to be a reasonable inquiry. Monorail proponents have assumed since the
3.9-mile elevated transit system opened in 2004 that it would become
successful only if and when it linked the airport with the resort
corridor, a common strategy for rail systems in cities worldwide.
simple answer from Myles now is that it’s still too early to tell if
the extension, which would cost between $400 million and $500 million,
is worth pursuing. A spokeswoman for the monorail said the company could
raise money through investors or by taking on debt through bonds, but
“it’s too soon to discuss funding of any project and it would be part of
the conversation involving the Regional Transportation Commission’s
A committee of transportation and tourism
leaders has met regularly since last summer to build the outline of
what’s being called a transportation investment business plan that
incorporates the development of a multimodal transportation center at
the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Michael Gallis, a
Charlotte, N.C.-based consultant, is in the research phase of the
Regional Transportation Commission plan that isn’t expected to be
delivered until next year.
In the meantime, Myles is content to
wait for the study’s results and watch the monorail’s financial picture
brighten in the months ahead.
In April, the company reported its
third straight quarter of passenger increases with 1.1 million riders
and farebox revenue of $5.1 million over the first quarter of 2013.
That’s a 14 percent increase in passengers and an 11.5 percent increase
in revenue from the same period a year ago.
attributed the bump partly to the opening of the highly visible High
Roller observation wheel. Monorails cruise below the Caesars
Entertainment attraction about every five minutes.
In March, Las Vegas also hosted the ConExpo-Con/Agg construction show, an event that occurs just once every three years.
Thousands of the nearly 130,000 show delegates used the monorail on show days.
believes the double-digit percentage increases will continue through
the rest of this year, especially with the SLS Las Vegas opening on
Labor Day weekend.
The monorail company first met with SLS
executives when the company broke ground on the property at the site of
the old Sahara to discuss marketing and partnership strategies.
a tendency to believe that SLS, as a popular Southern California brand,
would produce some great numbers for us, but we’re going to look at it
conservatively,” Myles said. “We’re looking at it producing the same
numbers as when the Sahara was open.”
And that would mean an increase of 8 percent to 11 percent.
AT THE TABLE
The transportation committee, formed by Las Vegas
Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter,
has all the key players in transportation and tourism at its table.
Among the stakeholders are representatives of the resort community, the
convention industry, the Regional Transportation Commission, McCarran,
the Metropolitan Police Department, the city’s bus and limousine
companies, taxi company owners and Nevada Taxicab Authority regulators.
finally all at the table, and it’s really nice,” said Rosemary
Vassiliadis, director of the Clark County Aviation Department. “I think
that’s a first. We’re all talking about all modes of transportation and
how they can work together.”
Vassiliadis said the group will get
recommendations from the Gallis report and analyze what’s best for the
community and visitors.
One of the options is developing a new light-rail system or a more versatile bus rapid transit line with dedicated lanes.
The committee has traveled to Phoenix and Salt Lake City to see how their light-rail transit systems serve the airport.
Salt Lake City TRAX light-rail system has a station at Salt Lake City
International Airport. In Phoenix, the Valley Metro Light Rail line is
within a few blocks of Sky Harbor International Airport, so the airport
runs a free shuttle bus from two terminals and a Sky Train rail line to
it from another.
MONORAIL AT McCARRAN
Would the monorail work at McCarran?
Vassiliadis isn’t tipping her hand on what she thinks will happen, preferring instead to be ready for whatever unfolds.
planners have sketched out where monorail stations would work at both
Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. She said inquiries were made of the monorail
company in the construction phase of Terminal 3 and when it became
apparent there wasn’t anything on the immediate horizon, some options
were blocked because construction could cause operational disruptions.
predecessor, Randall Walker, wasn’t a big advocate for the monorail,
saying he didn’t believe the system’s riders would be interested in
walking with their suitcases to and from monorail stations when easier
options would exist.
Myles disagrees. He said resort operators
would find a way to accommodate monorail riders so that they wouldn’t
have to walk as far once they arrive at their hotel station. Myles also
said by the time the monorail tracks get to the airport, the company
would be acquiring new trains that would include racks for bags and
“My job is to get people to the hotel,” Myles said. “You’ve got CEOs
that are billionaires that know how to manage their customers once they
get there. And they’re pretty good at it. They’ve told me over and over
that the real challenge is getting people here in the first place. We’re
competing with China. We’re competing with Brazil. Soon, we’ll be
competing with Japan, which is supposed to be the next big thing. So I’m
not worried about where I drop them off once they get here. I worry
about them getting here.”
Tina Quigley, the Regional Transportation Commission’s general manager, considers the monorail a community transportation asset.
working collectively,” Quigley said of the group. “Every alternative
needs to be included in the discussion. And I think the key is we have
to think in terms of growing as a destination, not just growing our own
Quigley’s goal is to
have “as many alternatives and modes as possible to get people from
Point A to Point B.” She scoffed at the notion that the politically
connected taxicab industry would block any effort to extend the monorail
to the airport or that extending the monorail to the airport would kill
the cab industry.
“There’s a certain demographic that is always
going to want to use a taxi instead of mass transportation,” Quigley
said. “There will be enough for everybody.”
Myles said since he’s been CEO of the monorail company he never has seen any political pressure from the cab industry.
cab industry isn’t doing anything today to prevent us from going to the
airport,” Myles said. “I don’t know what they did in the beginning when
I wasn’t here.
“I’ve had conversations with some of the cab
company owners about us going to the airport. I don’t think the monorail
going to the airport is going to do anything to the cab industry. That
(suspicion) comes from a lack of understanding of who’s coming to town
and why. There’s always going to be a huge demographic that is going to
want to take a cab.”
Myles said it’s a perception “we’re going to have to deal with.”
Bell, who heads Bell Transportation, which has taxi and limousine
operations in Southern Nevada, said in a recent editorial board meeting
of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the only dustup the cab industry
has had with the monorail company involved plans to build the monorail
guideways from Paradise Road and Twain Avenue to the Las Vegas
The guideways on the southern end of that
section straddle Paradise Road, but farther north, they’re supported by
structures in the center of the street. The end result was that the
monorail track placement resulted in the loss of a traffic lane where
taxi drivers need it most — near the Convention Center.
Bell said the taxi industry has no organized effort to block the monorail to the airport.
So what’s next for the monorail?
Myles said until the Gallis
plan is presented and vetted by the committee, he and the company are
satisfied with continuing efforts to rebound from the Great Recession
that resulted in the company filing for and successfully emerging from
Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
For monorail investors and the insurance company that backed the bonds to build the system, the bankruptcy was a disaster.
two-year trip through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceeding that ended
in 2012 left the company with a 98 percent reduction of debt to $13
million and maintained its not-for-profit status.
governments didn’t lose any money, but the company lost its ability to
advertise and market the system, one of the conditions set by the
bankruptcy restructuring officer. The ad budget was slashed by 95
With finances reorganized and debt manageable, the
company can get back to promoting the system and selling contracts to
convention groups for big events and trade shows.
“We knew we had
to get back into selling the system,” Myles said. “We basically went
dark in terms of our marketing presence for four years, from June 2008
to June 2012.”
Myles knew that it normally takes at least six
months for a renewed marketing effort to show results, and the company
started seeing increases in April 2013.
Another piece of the
marketing that went away in bankruptcy in 2008 was a customer-service
presence in stations. That’s something that has returned postbankruptcy.
Myles is confident that the system has the cash flow necessary to
maintain its operation and set aside money for capital improvements.
There’s even a plan in place to replace trains and upgrade stations in coming years.
improvements occur constantly, and they’re part of our operations and
maintenance contract we have with (manufacturer) Bombardier,” Myles
The company expects to replace elevators and escalators in the system’s stations by 2021 and 2022.
trains have a 30-year lifespan, and the first ones went into service in
2002 and 2003. When initially purchased, the trains cost around $9
million apiece. Since then, Bombardier has made improvements to the
system to make manufacturing less expensive, but factoring in inflation,
he expects new trains will run between $8 million and $10 million each.
said the newer trains might also have new amenities, such as luggage
racks, electrical outlets for passengers to charge their electronic
devices when they get off their planes and onboard Wi-Fi.
monorail line is extended to the airport, it would require the company
to purchase another seven trains at $8 million to $10 million each to
maintain its current level of service.
An extension to the airport isn’t the only one under consideration.
Ralenkotter and Myles have discussed the possibility of connecting the
city’s three major convention centers, the Las Vegas Convention Center,
the Sands Expo and Convention Center and the Mandalay Bay Convention
“That,” said Myles, “would be an incredible competitive
asset. We’d have 10 million square feet of exhibit space connected.
There’s nothing like that anywhere in the world.”
convention centers would require building a station near the Sands Expo
and Convention Center — presumably over the intersection of Koval Lane
and Twain Avenue — and an extension from the monorail’s southern
terminus at the MGM Grand to Mandalay Bay. Myles noted that a station at
Mandalay Bay could become the beginning point for a line on the west
side of the Strip that eventually could connect even more rooms to the
airport some day.
There also has been talk of extending the
monorail north from the SLS station to downtown Las Vegas where more and
more tech-savvy millennials who use mass transit are moving.
extension of the line would make the system more appealing to local
residents, which now make up just 2 percent of the approximately
half-million monthly riders. It’s not that the company hasn’t tried to
get more locals to ride — Las Vegas residents can buy a one-way ticket
for $1 at stations staffed with customer service representatives — the
least expensive mass transit on the Strip.
So for now, Myles will continue to wait.
“Everybody (on the transportation committee) agreed to set their private interests aside, which is a hard thing to do,” he said.
if the community isn’t going to get behind it, it’s not going to
happen. We have to be a part of a bigger solution. And it’ll happen when
we collectively agree that it’s in the best interest of the community.”