Monorail fan uses imagination, stopwatch

Jerry Zinnes doesn't want to come off as a "sourpuss" -- he repeats this many times.

So before we get into his four-year experiment, it's important to make this crystal clear: When Zinnes moved to town eight years ago and heard about a monorail opening on the Strip, he was as excited as anybody. He hopped aboard the second day.

"Some people told me when they saw the monorail, they knew in an instant it wasn't going to work," said the retired Indiana University psychology professor. "I didn't buy it. I thought it was a nice piece of equipment. I was very optimistic."

Zinnes, in remarkably good condition for 81 years old, is an avid photographer and walks the Strip weekly to take pictures. So, soon after the Las Vegas Monorail began rolling, he paid $35 for a 10-ride ticket -- good for a year. Although he didn't use all his rides, he figured that was simply an anomaly and ponied up for another annual pass the next year.

He made a concerted effort to ride the train whenever at all convenient. He visited the Strip at least 52 times but, still, never took full advantage of his ticket.

This isn't evolving into some complex math problem, but it wasn't adding up for Zinnes.

"I could not use up all the rides," he said. "I began to wonder why."

And being a professor, he couldn't simply wonder why -- like the rest of us might -- he had to figure out why. He invented three tourists -- Fred, Tom and Bill. For the next four years, these guys walked from casinos to monorail stations and from casinos to casinos and, of course, "rode" the train.

Only there weren't three guys making some 390 experimental trips, half from casino floors to monorail stations and half from casino to casino. Only one man took part in the study: Zinnes, a sweet fellow who proudly reveals he has undergone quadruple bypass surgery.

Zinnes clocked the time it took to walk between casinos where monorail service is available and compared it to walking from a casino floor to the nearest monorail station. For the sake of his study, he didn't include the monorail ride; he assumed it was instant. He also assumed it was free.

It's important to keep in mind that Zinnes was unaware of the controversy surrounding the monorail when the financing structure was approved by the state in 2000. He was oblivious to all the naysayers who were furious that the $600 million project was funded by tax-exempt bonds.

This is a man who was a monorail cheerleader. But something was nagging Zinnes, and he and his imaginary friends were going to hammer out the problem.

Start with Fred, whose goal was to determine if it was faster to walk to a monorail station to reach another casino or simply walk the distance. Fred compared the two from 14 different casinos ranging from the Tropicana to the south to the Wynn at the north. (The Wynn has since canceled its monorail subscription.)

Here is a taste of what he discovered. If you are at the Paris hotel-casino and headed for the Flamingo, it would take 7.80 minutes to walk the distance compared to 21.11 minutes to ride the monorail. Again, Zinnes assumed that once he is at the monorail station he was zapped into his destination property.

The problem, Zinnes quickly concluded, was that the monorail stations are too far from, well, everything. And he even gave the monorail the benefit of the doubt by assuming that Fred knew exactly where the monorail station was located. Most tourists do not; poor signage amounted to "added defects," Zinnes said.

Even when signs exist, they are misleading. At one point, Zinnes walked from a monorail sign near Mandalay Bay to the closest station, the MGM Grand, and it took more than a half hour.

"Only one of 91 possible monorail trips did not involve more than 15 minutes of walking," his report concluded of Fred's adventure.

"My times are extremely optimistic, because it assumes people know exactly where they're going," he said.

Then there was Tom, who was biased toward the monorail. He played the slot machines closest to the monorail stations. In this case, the monorail prevailed in some cases. For example, a walking trip between the MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood would be 22.70 minutes walking compared to 13 minutes riding.

"Under this scenario, just 11 of 92 possible monorail trips were superior to not taking the monorail, and also did not require more than 15 minutes of walking," Zinnes noted.

Bill is a figment of our imagination, and his trip is as well. He is trying to figure out whether to take the monorail from McCarran, which of course doesn't exist, versus a taxi.

In this case, predictably, the taxi prevails because it is a door-to-door service. From the monorail stations to the front desk it takes, for example, 14 minutes at the Paris, compared to a walk that is less than a minute after a cab drops you off. Now, in Zinnes' experiment the train is free, but really, who would want to pay $5 a person and then lug your bags for 15 minutes when a cab will run a family $20 bucks and leave you at the front desk?

"It sounds nice to go to the airport, but if you look at it, it doesn't make a lot of sense," he said.

Zinnes is stunned that nobody bothered to conduct an experiment like his before plunking down $600 million. Must I remind you he is relatively new to town?

"Someone should have looked at all this," he said. "They should have looked at the routes and which trips make the most sense. The answer is none."

Zinnes sadly concluded that the monorail is a waste of money and time. Even if it is free, a person still wouldn't ride it as frequently as they would a bus, he said.

Zinnes emphasized that the project did not consume his life; he spends time on the Strip capturing images anyway. He also is an avid violinist and active in a motorcycle club.

But this was his most important request: "Please don't make me sound like a sourpuss. I was very optimistic. I was very eager to ride the monorail."

Zinnes' report was not written for anybody, and he never received a dime. His experiment is now over, and he is looking to take on another project. If we see a fit octogenarian trekking through the desert between Las Vegas and Victorville, we'll know what he chose to explore next.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior@reviewjournal .com. Please include your phone number.