A Virgin Voyage Aboard the Las Vegas Monorail

One passenger is impressed with his first ride—and wonders about its potential to offer more


I fucking love elevated trains. You’re talking about someone who rode the Seattle Center Monorail at least twice a year from 2002 to 2012, even though there was no real need for me to do so: Seattle’s buses cover the same route at the same price and allow you to transfer to other routes, streetcars and even ferries, which the monorail does not.

While we’re here, I’ll add that I’m a bit of a public transit superfreak. I haven’t owned a car since 2004, when I sold my Mercedes to ride those Seattle buses and trains. And since returning to Vegas in 2012, I’ve gotten around town via bus, bicycle and carpooling. (It’s not easy, but hey, a transit culture has to start somewhere.)

All of this leads to the day, last month, when I rode the Las Vegas Monorail for the very first time. I ignored it for its entire first decade of operation, because—and this is someone who paid to take a monorail from Westlake Center to the former Seattle World’s Fair grounds, a distance of less than a mile—the 3.9-mile route of the our monorail seemed pointless. It serves mostly faded properties, and it affords a view only of the Strip’s industrial backside. The only thing I could see when I looked at our monorail was wasted potential: an expensive boondoggle that could neither get me from home to the airport, or take me Downtown from the Strip.

Though my first ride on the monorail didn’t necessarily get me where I really wanted to go, it did soften my opinion of it as a mode of transportation. First, it’s cheap for locals; if you flash your Nevada ID at the window, you can get a one-way ticket for a buck. (You’re allowed two one-way tickets per day.) Once you’ve bought your ticket, you simply walk upstairs or downstairs (it’s different at different stations) to the platform, where there will probably be a train waiting for you. (Computer-controlled and driverless, the monorail runs with very little downtime.) The cars are clean and air-conditioned, and most afternoons, you’ll probably have one all to yourself.

The ride from SLS to MGM, barely 15 minutes in length, is more scenic than I had anticipated. Yes, stucco walls and air-conditioning units are a large part of the scenery, but you’re also afforded a nice panoramic view of the Wynn’s golf course, a lingering look at Bally’s pool area and tennis courts, and, in a Disneyesque flourish, a low sweep through the Linq entertainment district, with a close pass at the High Roller observation wheel.

But is it useful? Somewhat. Even though one stop is listed as “Flamingo/Caesars Palace,” I doubt that the average Caesars visitor is willing to cross the Strip and two casino floors just to save the cab fare to SLS. The monorail route, and the lack of Strip access to it, remains one of the worst examples of design by committee. At least Seattle’s monorail, which locals consider a straight-up tourist attraction, puts you right at the base of the damn Space Needle. There’s fun in it, but also function.

Our monorail could gain some of that functionality with some effort, ingenuity … and, you know, money. Just imagine if we had an elevated rail system that extended as far south as McCarran and UNLV, or as far north as the Fremont Street Experience. We need a light-rail solution like that yesterday, and we already have one mostly built out. We’re constantly talking about ways to alleviate Strip traffic, to avoid the weekend clusterfuck at the airport, and to allow hospitality workers easy access to their jobs; why not finish off the threefold solution that’s currently running above Paradise Road, and build a damn park-and-ride lot at both ends of the line?

It’s something for a public transit superfreak to ponder. Maybe, even, as he’s barhopping from Linq to SLS. At the very least, I have that option—and I will no longer hesitate to use it.

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