We’ll never, ever, ever get a monorail

The Disney Resort Line at Tokyo Disney Resort, Japan. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Nine years ago, I took my first monorail ride.

It was a 122°F (50°C) day in late July in Las Vegas, and the soles of my Converse had melted from walking on the scorching sidewalk. I had seen the infamous The Simpsons episode where Lyle Lanley sells an expensive and useless monorail in Springfield. That evening, I headed to the MGM Grand station, paid the $5 ticket, and waited for my trolley to arrive.

But like some kind of crazy dream, I was literally the only person on a train built to carry 222 people. It was like walking through a deserted mall at midnight – scary as hell.

A monorail in Las Vegas seems like a good idea: the Strip is long and full of tourists. Even if you’re sober, weaving through crowds of people so drunk and lazy that they have neck straps for their backyard drinks — you know, the long plastic cups filled with margarita slushies — is a pain in the neck. ass.

The Las Vegas Monorail. Image: Priwo/Wikimedia Commons

However, Las Vegas has struggled to deliver on its monorail promise since the 3.9-mile track opened in 2004. The track runs parallel to the Strip— behind all massive, block-scale hotels. When the project was first proposed, developers hoped to attract over 20 million cyclists a year. In 2016, only 4.9 million monorail trips were made. For reference, nearly 43 million people visited Las Vegas last year, according to the city’s visitors bureau, and the city has a population of about 632,000.

In 2010, the nonprofit company in charge, named Las Vegas Monorail, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after failing to repay $650 million in construction loans. (He left bankruptcy proceedings two years later.)

But in true Las Vegas style, instead of taking the loss and going home with her tail between her legs, the business doubles. He now plans to spend another $100 million in private funding to extend the MGM Grand monorail to Mandalay Bay, a distance of less than a mile on foot. The company also asked the county to give it $4.5 million in public funds a year for 30 years to support the extension.

“I hate the idea that we have to have this $4.5 million discussion,” Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said. Las Vegas Sun newspaper in November. “If something isn’t going to make more than $4.5 million, then it’s not going to make it… It’s like my kids are saying, ‘I just need a dollar. You have bigger problems all around.

The history of the Las Vegas Monorail is an allegory of almost every other monorail that exists on this planet.

A monorail in China passes through a building. Video: Amazing World/YouTube

Matti Siemiatycki, professor of geography and urban planning at the University of Toronto, told me that monorails are an easy investment for governments and investors because they’re cheaper and apparently less disruptive than digging subway tunnels. .

When it comes to transportation, it’s easy to believe that the next innovation will solve our urban problems – “the idea that we can use new technologies to reduce the friction of distance,” said Siemiatycki, who studies politics, planning , financing and delivery. transport infrastructure. “The monorail is part of this kind of futuristic technology that will change the way our cities work.”

Governments and investors alike are easily seduced by the mental image of a monorail cutting between skyscrapers and gliding so gracefully above the ground. “The imagery and symbolism of transportation technologies is really relevant to these discussions,” he continued. In November, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who is running for re-election next year, nonchalantly suggested a monorail to link Montreal to Quebec. He specifically ruled out the use of light rail transit (LRT) instead. It would be easy to dismiss as convenience during election season, but Siemiatycki said you’d be surprised how many transportation projects a glib remark kicks off.

Meanwhile, the volunteer-run Monorail Society—yes, it’s real—has one goal: to promote and celebrate the use of monorails around the world. He says they are safe, environmentally friendly and an efficient way to move people around a city. For what it’s worth, he also started a conspiracy theory that monorails are often ruled out due to the powerful two-track rail lobby.

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But monorails have been promised for more than a century, Siemiatycki told me. In fact, Wuppertal, Germany has had a suspension monorail since 1901. “I think what ultimately happens with the monorail is that it’s kind of a new technology, but nobody can understand the advantage to have two rails,” he said. In short, subways and trams are more convenient for riders, and the SLR is cheaper to build.

Line 3, Chongqing Rail Transit. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Until now, most monorails around the world are usually only a few miles long and were built as shuttles for theme parks and airports. The world’s longest monorail is in densely populated Chongqing, China; Line 3 is 41 miles long and connects the city and its surrounding suburbs to the airport. (It also passes through an apartment building.) About 675,000 trips are made there per day, in a city of 30 million people.

But in most cities where monorails exist, most people don’t know what they’re for.

In Mumbai, India, a three-year-old monorail only makes 17,000 daily trips, far below the 125,000 to 300,000 passengers per day projected by planners and funders.

In Malacca, Malaysia, a local newspaper recently published an article criticizing the city’s monorail. The train reopened in December 2017, after four years of shutdown due to technical issues.

A ride on its one-mile track costs around US$2.45, or about the price of a cheap meal in Malacca. “This monorail travels at 20 kilometers (12 miles) per hour. It’s definitely not a mode of transportation that locals can choose,” critics told the paper. “Why would they pay so much to ride a monorail? who’s not going anywhere?”

The same goes for Las Vegas: why would someone pay $5 per person to ride a monorail down the small alleyway on the Strip, when sharing an Uber or Lyft with friends would probably cost the same or even less ? It will take at least another $100 million to find out.

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