Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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VEGAS MONORAIL MUST SUCCEED WITHOUT TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES

There’s a lot of face-saving going on as the nonprofit Las Vegas Monorail Co. dismisses its current management company, Transit Systems Management LLC, and moves in to take control of the troubled East-of-the-Strip Las Vegas tourist train, itself.

The handover of the reins is being called a “merger.” Everyone is at great pains to insist it’s all amicable and mutually agreeable, that it’s been in the works a long while, that it’s a natural step as the firm moves from the development stage to the operating stage (though in fact that happened a year ago), etc.

Fine. Recriminations and finger-pointing would profit no one. What does it cost to be nice?

Besides, the monorail is a private operation, funded by the sale of private bonds. What business is it of anyone else’s if Cam Walker and Jim Gibson -- who also happens to be mayor of suburban Henderson and a widely touted potential gubernatorial candidate -- now move on, while the monorail company itself now adopts a more hands-on role, in lieu of the $6 million per year operating contract of which Messrs. Walker and Gibson and their Transit Systems Management LLC had been the beneficiary?

In fact, this overdue management change is further evidence that this franchise is deeply troubled. The Canadian-built system was sidelined most of last year after three incidents in which metal parts fell from moving trains. The discharge of shrapnel seems to have been brought under control this year, but ridership has remained considerably below projections, and the outfit’s bond rating has plunged to junk status.

Now, the owners have tapped as their new CEO Curtis Myles, who is currently deputy general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission.

Yes, Mr. Myles will leave his RTC post when he takes over the helm of monorail operations on July 18. But skeptical taxpayers, waiting for someone to set the hook, can hardly fail to notice that the RTC is actively promoting a taxpayer-financed “light rail” trolley line running from Henderson northwest to McCarran Airport, and then from a terminal in downtown Las Vegas along available rights-of-way north-northeast to the proposed new northern campus of UNLV near Nellis Air Force Base.

Why two unconnected lines with a six-mile gap between them? Presumably the connecting link would be the existing east-of-the-Strip monorail, extended downtown from Sahara to Bonneville -- at someone’s expense.

The monorail’s operators have never been political babes in the woods. In addition to Mayor Gibson’s prominence, his partner, Cam Walker, co-owns Transit Systems with the widow of the late Bob Broadbent, who was Walker’s father-in-law and a long-time heavyweight in Clark County politics.

Any light rail boondoggle, based on the theory that affluent Las Vegans would just love to give up their private automobiles to hang around sweltering trolley stops waiting to share inconveniently scheduled trams with the local pickpocket community, would most certainly carry huge taxpayer subsidies -- no mass transit system built in this country in decades has failed to generate lower ridership and higher tax subsidies than projected.

Might future operators of the struggling monorail see linkage to these chimerical tax-subsidized commuter lines as a financial lifeline -- promising both more ridership and the hopes of direct or indirect tax subsidies? With some in this town already talking about the trolley schemes as a “done deal,” taxpayers have every right to -- taxpayers ought to -- loudly remind all involved that they were promised from day one the Las Vegas monorail would be a private operation, that any losses would be born by private bondholders only.

In this tourist-oriented town, most hope the Las Vegas monorail succeeds. But hooking up an I.V. from the taxpayers’ bank accounts should not be confused with “success.”

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