Wed May 21st, 2008 at 02:28:06 PM EST
What does it take to fund the construction of a new light rail system? I ask this because Las Vegas, Nevada, seems to be the perfect place to build a streetcar system--and yet they can't even keep a little "horizontal elevator" system running. Do such systems have to be built by the city administration? Or can private enterprise get the funding, permits, and traffic needed to make a new streetcar system work?
This question is triggered by my recent experience in Las Vegas, where I'm attending a computer industry conference. The conference is at the Mandalay Bay hotel, but I'm staying at the Excalibur hotel. They're separated by something less than a kilometer of distance on "the strip," which is certainly a walkable distance if you stay inside, but it's not so much fun if you take the sidewalk and it's 109 degrees outside like it's been for the past few days.
So there's an overhead tram that connects the hotels, and I went to check it out just to see how it works. It's a cable system with what appears to be roller coaster track/wheel technology. Sort of wierd, I thought, but for this system obviously somebody thought it was the right way to go.
Well, they were wrong, because in the past three days, it's been out of service about half of the time! I can't imagine what is so hard about keeping something like this going, but in any case, the real question is why there's no streetcar in Las Vegas.
As you may know, most of the hotels are on "the strip," which is a six lane street with heavy traffic and lots of pedestrians on the sidewalk. It is sort of like Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, which has a heavily used street car/subway/interurban track (standard gauge, overhead trolley system) that runs down the median. This sort of a system would appear to be perfectly applicable to Las Vegas, but for some reason they prefer that the tourists use limosines and rented cars, and then walk (long distances) in the desert heat to see the sights.
Without commenting on the surrealistic uselessness of Las Vegas in general, I was wondering how one might approach the installation of a mass transit system in an existing urban area. Can the funding come from private sources, and then get permission to tear up the streets? Or must something like this be done by the government? Are there examples of private mass transit systems in Europe?