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.
Flickr photo by James Cridland.
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). Continue reading
The Antiplanner is in San Antonio, the nation’s largest city not to have fallen for the rail-transit hoax. In fact, San Antonio is the epitome of a 21st-century city, since it does not pretend to have a huge downtown–only 6 percent of the region’s jobs are located in the downtown area.
Another 21st-century city, Las Vegas, has also escaped any publicly funded rail transit but some would like to change that. The Antiplanner commented on this proposal a couple of months ago, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a similar commentary yesterday. I hope that city can avoid the mistakes made by Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake.
The Antiplanner spent the last four days in Las Vegas and, since I’m not particularly interested in sitting at tables and giving my money to large corporations, I brought my bike with me. You might not think that a city and season where temperatures often reach 110 degrees would be bicycle friendly, but I found Las Vegas to be excellent for cycling.
It helps that I was willing to get up at 5 am, when it was only about 88 degrees, and do a 30- to 50-mile ride before the temperatures exceeded 95. Beyond timing, the city seemed to be well designed for cyclists.
Actually, I was at a conference on the Las Vegas Strip, which isn’t in Las Vegas; it, along with the Las Vegas airport, are in an unincorporated city called Paradise that was made a township (preventing Las Vegas from annexing it) in 1950 by developers seeking to minimize taxes and regulation. They succeeded in attracting tens of billions of dollars of resorts, most of which are owned by just a few companies. Continue reading
On the same day that the Antiplanner debated rail transit with Vukan Vuchic, the Las Vegas Sun announced that transit planners there are once again studying light rail. Las Vegas is the nation’s third-largest urban area not to have spent large amounts of money on rail transit: Detroit has a people mover and is building a streetcar line; Tampa has a streetcar; and Las Vegas has a monorail connecting casinos, but none of these were megaprojects (and all should be considered failures).
Rather than pat themselves on the back for avoiding the cost headaches that come with light rail, the city’s Regional Transportation Commission is considering an $800 million light-rail line vs. a $350-million bus-rapid transit line. Officials should look at Denver, where the bus-rapid transit line provides faster service than any of the region’s rail lines; is the only line that didn’t have huge cost overruns and did greatly exceed ridership projections; and whose buses share space with cars so the line relieves congestion for everyone, not just a handful of train riders.
Professor Vuchic maintains that light rail is somehow essential for urban livability. Cities that built light rail, he said, created pedestrian friendly streets. On one hand, light rail kills three times as many pedestrians as buses, per billion passenger miles carried, so I don’t consider that very friendly. On the other hand, any actions that can be taken to create a pedestrian-friendly environment are completely independent of what kind of transit is provided. Continue reading
Someone has calculated that it would be less expensive for San Francisco workers to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Las Vegas and commute by air than to rent a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. They reasoned that a one-bedroom in San Francisco is about $3,100 a month while a two-bedroom in Las Vegas is about $1,000 a month, and four-day-a-week airfares would be about $1,100 a month. Even with local transport, Las Vegas is less expensive than San Francisco.
While most responses focus on the quality of life in Las Vegas vs. San Francisco, the point is that the latter is so terribly overpriced that some software engineers are actually living out of their cars.
The smart-growth mantra is “build up, not out,” but that’s clearly not working out. Between 2000 and 2010, the area of land in the San Francisco-Oakland urbanized area grew by zilch (in fact, according to the Census Bureau, it declined by 0.6%), and developers only managed to build 14 percent more units of housing. Meanwhile, Las Vegas-area developers built 52 percent more housing units as developed land expanded by 46 percent.
Las Vegas’ Regional Transportation Commission is considering the idea of building a light-rail subway under the Las Vegas strip. Unlike most roads, congestion on the strip does not happen during morning and afternoon rush hours but on weekends and evenings when tourists tire of gambling in their own hotels and decide to explore some of the other hotels on the strip.
The strip is already served by an expensive monorail that was privately funded by a firm that has since gone bankrupt. Plus there are numerous private and public buses that run up and down the strip.
Comments to this and other articles claim that the monorail failed because it didn’t go to the airport and because its route behind the hotels offers such pleasant scenery as blank walls and dumpsters. But the fact that hotels didn’t want to mar their public facades with an elevated train–and some hotels didn’t want the monorail at all because they didn’t want to encourage their guests to escape–explains some of the problems facing any potential rail line. Las Vegas has a thriving, for-profit airport shuttle system that avoids congestion by using back streets, so replacing that with a subsidized rail line is totally unnecessary.
Robert Lang, a professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, thinks Las Vegas needs a low-capacity rail line (aka light rail). As the director of something called the Lincy Institute, Lang’s job is to “draw state and federal money to the greater Las Vegas” area, and low-capacity rail is one way to do that.
An ACE Gold bus-rapid transit vehicle in Las Vegas. With fancy vehicles like these, why does Vegas need low-capacity rail? Click this Flickr photo by HerrVebah for a larger view.
Of course, that’s not the way he puts it. He claims low-capacity rail has “transformed urban development patterns in the West” by changing “housing development from water-consuming single family homes to multifamily, mixed-use projects.” I guess he thinks people in multifamily, mixed-use projects don’t drink as much water as people in single-family homes. It’s also pretty clear he hasn’t read research by the Antiplanner and faithful Antiplanner allies such as John Charles showing that low-capacity rail attracts no new development unless it is accompanied by large subsidies to developers.
Buyers of bonds for the Las Vegas monorail are suing Citibank for fraud. The buyers claim Citibank misled them by not revealing a report by faithful Antiplanner ally Wendell Cox questioning the ridership and cost projections made for the project. The lawsuit charges that Citibank knew that Cox’s report was “much more reliable” but concealed it from potential bond buyers.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has made similarly rosy projections of rail ridership that it hopes to use to attract private investors. Those projections have also been criticized in a report co-authored by Cox. In the unlikely event that the authority does manage to attract some private investors in its rail project, it had better make Cox’s report available to them or it is liable to find itself subject to a similar lawsuit.