When I first moved to Las Vegas in 2008, I remember choosing to stay at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino while I searched for an apartment. Just east of the Strip on Paradise Road, it looked close enough to Las Vegas Boulevard to stroll over for a quick snack but far enough away to escape the tourist crush. It was perfect.
As I learned soon after checking in, the Hard Rock is within walking distance of the Strip, provided you're prepared to hoof it 1.2 miles to reach that famous stretch of asphalt.
Distances in Las Vegas are farther than they appear. With casinos stretching over entire city blocks and hotels boasting thousands of rooms, just getting from the Caesars Palace parking garage to the Qua Baths and Spa is at least a five-minute hike.
Those distances mean a few things: lots of tourists with tired feet, heavy traffic throughout the casino corridor and that a well-executed public transportation system would have the potential to relieve both.
Officially opened in 2004, the Las Vegas Monorail is a privately owned public transportation system that primarily serves the Strip. It connects eight resorts and the Las Vegas Convention Center, with seven stops along the east side of the Strip. To the north, there are stations at the SLS, the Westgate and the Convention Center. To the south, its final stop is the MGM Grand. Tickets cost $5 per trip for out-of-town riders with an unlimited day pass going for $12. Total annual ridership: 5 million people. Total distance covered: 4 miles.
To grow that rider number and entice more of the approximately 43 million annual Las Vegas visitors aboard, the monorail has proposed a one-mile extension that would add a stop to the south end of the route at the Mandalay Bay.
"With this expansion, the monorail will directly connect 35,000 hotel rooms, 7 million square feet of convention space, two arenas and hundreds of dining, retail and entertainment venues," said Ingrid Reisman, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Las Vegas Monorail. "It is expected that the extension will add approximately 2 million riders per year."
The extension will also get the monorail much closer to the forthcoming NFL stadium near the Mandalay Bay. Reisman said that an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 riders are expected to take the monorail to reach events at the stadium.
The expansion project has received approval from Clark County, and Reisman said they're hoping to close financing in the first quarter of 2018. The approximate timeframe for construction and testing of the new track would be 28 months.
But while the proposed expansion would likely increase ridership and make the monorail more useful for more visitors, it doesn't address some of the system's flaws, including a general lack of awareness that Las Vegas has a monorail at all.
Even those who are aware of its existence question its utility. On a TripAdvisor forum, various users float answers to the question: "What's so bad about the monorail?"
The general consensus is that it's not so bad, but it's also not as useful as it could be. One issue is the placement of stations, often at the rear of sprawling resort properties, far from the porte-cocheres where visitors seek out taxis and limos and a fairly long walk to many casino attractions and the Strip itself, let alone whatever hotel is across the street.
As both the ridership stats and the TripAdvisor comments suggest, if you're traveling to a destination on the west side of the Strip (i.e., the Bellagio or Caesars Palace) or a resort not directly served by a monorail stop, the cost and convenience just doesn't make the train a compelling option.
Perhaps the most grievous problem is that the monorail fails to reach McCarran Airport, where it would provide a vital link between visitors and their hotels, potentially cutting down Strip congestion and pollution.
"A connection to McCarran International Airport has always been a part of the long-term expansion strategy of the Las Vegas Monorail," said Reisman, adding that the company is focusing first on the Mandalay Bay and then potentially a stop at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. "A connection to the airport would be an obvious next step."
Ironically, the planned extension will take the monorail track right by McCarran, even installing supports on airport property. But monorail riders will have to watch the airport glide by until they reach the Mandalay Bay, where they can get off the monorail and hail a taxi.