Publicly funded transit projects are not the only ones that overestimate ridership and underestimate costs. The casinos that own the Las Vegas Monorail, which started operating in 2004 and went bankrupt in 2010, wants to borrow $110 million to extend the line about 0.8 miles. That’s a lot of money for a system that carries less than 13,000 riders per day.
Serving the gaudy hotels on the Las Vegas Strip (which isn’t actually in Las Vegas), the existing monorail has been strategically positioned to give its patrons excellent views of parking lots, dumpsters, and service roads, which is one reason why it went bankrupt. It could increase patronage by going to the airport, but taxi and limo companies have lobbied hard against that (and even limos might be less expensive than unsubsidized rides on the monorail).
In order to persuade banks to give it the money it needs to build to the Mandalay Bay Resort, the monorail company commissioned a 2016 ridership study that projected that the extension would boost ridership by 40 percent. To make that projection, the study claimed that ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft would have a “negligible” effect on ridership. But now the company admits that its 2017 ridership fell close to a million trips short of projections, partly due to ride sharing, and that 2018 ridership was also expected to fall short.
The Antiplanner has no objection if someone wants to blow $110 million of their own money on cute little trains. The Disney company seems happy with such rides, but it uses them to show off the other attractions in its parks, not to wind around through the back lots. It’s probably too late to relocate the Las Vegas monorail; the best thing the company can do is the same that should be done for many public rail lines: operate it until it is worn out, then scrap it.