Caesars Entertainment’s Linq retail district apparently is driving more than tourism to the heart of the Strip.
Officials with the Las Vegas Monorail Co. say it’s partially responsible for a boost in ridership for the 3.9-mile elevated transit system that has seen a downward spiral in the number of people it has carried annually since 2007.
The company this week reported its third straight quarter of passenger increases with 1.1 million customers and farebox revenue of $5.1 million. Both are double-digit percentage increases over the first quarter of 2013.
Ingrid Reisman, a spokeswoman for the company, said the high visibility of the High Roller observation wheel and the presence of this year’s ConExpo-Con/Agg construction show in March at the Las Vegas Convention Center were the biggest traffic drivers for the monorail.
“Las Vegas has also shown a significant increase in tourism in general for the first two months of the year and that certainly has helped,” Reisman said.
While March figures have yet to be posted, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported an 8.4 percent increase in visitor volume in January and 3.4 percent more in February compared with those months in 2013.
Reisman said the Visitors Authority’s efforts to attract more international visitors and more millennial generation guests would be favorable to the monorail because those types of visitors tend to use mass transportation more than others.
For monorail ridership, March’s 473,995 passengers represented the highest monthly total since the 537,574 that used the system in March 2011. The Linq attraction opened in March and the ConExpo show — a convention that occurs once every three years and is forecast to be the city’s largest show of 2014 — was at the Convention Center for five days early in the month.
The monorail company posts its ridership numbers quarterly and the first quarter figures showed a 14 percent increase in passengers and an 11.5 percent increase in farebox over the first quarter of 2013. The quarterly farebox figure was the highest since the third quarter of 2011.
Ridership was up every month of 2014’s first quarter, 13.1 percent in January, 3.4 percent in February and 29.4 percent in March.
Revenue was up 10.5 percent in January and 27.1 percent in March, but down 1.7 percent in February.
On Thursday afternoon, former Mayor Oscar Goodman, the head of the Las Vegas Host Committee, surprised Steve Riley of San Diego at the Harrah’s monorail station with the news that he was the 60 millionth person to ride the monorail.
For being that passenger, Riley, who was visiting with his wife, Laura, received a prize package that included show tickets, dinners at local restaurants, bus and helicopter tours, a raft trip, zipline passes, tickets to the Mob Museum and a miniature replica of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
A pattern of higher ridership and lower revenue began last year as a result of the company selling more wholesale contracts in 2013 after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late 2012. Wholesale pricing reduces the total revenue per passenger.
The bankruptcy filing prevented the monorail company from extensive marketing of the system.
Reisman said monorail officials had forecast the first-quarter increase and they say the ridership future is brightening.
The company figures it will see further increases as the Linq and High Roller attractions become better established. The company is anticipating a ridership bump in May when The Cromwell, formerly Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, opens its doors. It’s a Caesars property and the company has been supportive of the monorail in the past.
Another increase is anticipated in September when SLS, the former Sahara property on the north end of the Strip, opens on the Labor Day weekend.
The monorail has its northern terminus station attached to that property. The station has been closed since May 2011 when the Sahara was shuttered.
Monorail officials believe that curious visitors will want to see the SLS amenities when the property opens and will use the monorail to get there.
“It’s a popular brand in Southern California so we think there will be a lot of interest, especially from people who know them there and want to see what they have in Las Vegas,” Reisman said.
Ridership increases would be a welcome turn for the monorail, which has seen its passenger numbers plummet since 2007 and its farebox revenue fall steadily since 2006. In 2007, the company reported 7.9 million passengers rode the system. It fell to 4.13 million passengers in 2012, but increased to 4.17 million last year.
On the revenue side, the company reported $31.5 million raised in 2006. Annually, the total has fallen through 2013 when the company reported $18.4 million paid.While critics have called for the monorail to be dismantled, others say the system would be successful if it were to be extended to McCarran International Airport.
Although company executives continue to seek investors to pay for an extension, there are no plans to add a McCarran link or new tracks to downtown Las Vegas or the west side of the Strip as initially envisioned when the system opened in 2004.
Contact Richard N. Velotta at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.