Night of the living monorail


Zombies are enjoying a pop culture renaissance. What's the appeal? They're a lovable menace. Unlike clowns, which scare some people, nobody's really freaked out by zombies, as long as they're contained within the covers of a book or on the big screen.

But consider the possibility that zombies really do exist but take other forms, departing from the Hollywood stereotype of the rotting corpse with raggedy clothes shambling through the streets. If zombies are real, what might they look like?

The Las Vegas Monorail comes to mind.

The monorail has been taking a beating for a while. Local pundits, myself included, have criticized its low ridership and credit rating, its early mechanical problems and the fact that its 3.5-mile track doesn't take anybody where they want to go.

It's a well-intentioned $650 million idea gone terribly wrong.

Yet the monorail lives on. Like a member of the living dead, its cars continue to run, collecting overpriced fares and picking up passengers here and there.

One aspect of the monorail doesn't fit into the zombie rules: It has not hungered for the flesh of living humans. However, even that could be changing, metaphorically speaking at least.

Last month, as the system's credit rating dropped even further and default appeared imminent, officials revealed that the monorail is exploring public financing as a way to keep going.

Yes, the monorail zombie hungers for a taxpayer bailout. It's not going to eat us, just our wallets.

Public funding for mass transportation is hardly a new thing. In fact, taxpayers contribute to most public transit systems across the country. But the Las Vegas Monorail should not be lumped into that category for several reasons.

First, for almost a decade, the mantra from monorail founders and executives has been that it's a private project, requiring no tax dollars. The pursuit of public aid is a major -- if predictable -- about-face.

Second, the monorail can't seriously be defined as mass transit. Nobody uses the monorail to get to the office. It's not part of the valley's transportation network. It's merely a low-intensity attraction for tourists on the east side of the Strip.

Third and most important, as a taxpayer I would be outraged if a single public dollar goes to the monorail when it could go to something more deserving. The needs -- transportation and otherwise -- are great in Nevada and across the country, and the monorail isn't really necessary to anybody.

Rather, what we must figure out is how to destroy the monster in our midst. According to zombie expert L. Vincent Poupard, "There are two ways to destroy a zombie. You either have to burn the body or destroy the brain. The most common method is to shoot it in the head. Committing any other type of damage will cause the zombie to keep coming after you."

Now, to be clear, I am not condoning any form of actual violence. Those are Hollywood zombies that Poupard is talking about. When it comes to the monorail, the practical application is to dismantle the beast piece by piece and cart it away.

The good news is our zombie actually has a self-destruction budget. It has money set aside to tear it down if and when it is determined that it should happen.

That time is now.

What does Las Vegas need more than anything during this brutal recession? Jobs, right? Dismantling the monorail would create lots of good jobs.

Las Vegas needs better mass transit, but we have to start over. The monorail was a faux pas, a bad first draft, a mistake.

The problems with the monorail are plain to see in hindsight. It's too far away from the Strip. It only runs on the east side of the resort corridor. It doesn't go to the airport. It doesn't go downtown. It's too expensive to ride.

If the monorail were running down the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard -- as early supporters of a Strip people mover envisioned -- it undoubtedly would have a lot more customers. Not only would it serve a larger customer base, but it would be a bigger tourist attraction. What would you rather look at while riding the monorail, the ugly backsides of the Strip resorts or the shiny front facades and flashing signs? No contest.

The business management books all agree on this point: By all means, try new things, but if something isn't working, cut your losses and try something else. You see this philosophy in action in Las Vegas all the time, from the MGM Grand completely replacing its lion façade to Treasure Island revamping its pirate show. Reinvention is our mantra.

In the late Michael Jackson's famous "Thriller" video, zombies menace the singer and his date, who lets out a bone-chilling scream as the living dead descend upon her. But it turns out to be just a bad dream. Unfortunately the zombie in Las Vegas is not a bad dream. But it ought be become a bad memory.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal's director of community publications. His column appears Friday. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/geoffschumacher.

 

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