Las Vegas

05
Mar

2010

Technicians Not Operators

The Mandalay Bay cable car in Vegas operates under a simple and controversial principal: Technicians, not operators.

This fundamental principal means this: The system is never in the hands of amateurs. If you don’t know how the system works in its entirety, you don’t operate the system. It’s the difference between having teenagers run a roller coaster and the people who actually built it running it.

This concept was described to me by Don Asetta, the Manager of Operations and Maintenance at the Mandalay Bay Cable Car. While the concept – up front – means increased costs, the long term savings are huge. As I mentioned in a previous post, the system is still operating with its original cable, eleven years later. Nevertheless, it’s massively controversial concept because of how disruptive it is for management, unions, etc.

Trouble is, the concept makes perfect sense. Every operator of the system is also an engineer, technician and maintainer of the system. Don, himself, spends 2 hours every shift in the booth “operating” the system.

To paraphrase Don: Whose going to know more about a system and what’s going on with it? Someone who just operates it, or someone who operates on it?

Think about that.



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03
Mar

2010

Mandalay Bay Cable Car, Part 3

 

The Mandalay Bay Mechanical Room. Image by Steven Dale

I recently travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada to explore that city’s two public cable systems. This is Part 3 of a 3 Part report on the Mandalay Bay Cable Car.

The importance of station design in cable cannot be overstated. Even more than other transit technologies, cable stations have to be designed to accommodate large piece of infrastructure and maintenance facilities that other technologies can locate elsewhere.

This problem is typically exacerbated by over-zealous planners and engineers unfamiliar with cable. In the case of short-distance people mover systems, it is standard practice to design stations prior to technology selection. Mistakenly, designers appear to believe that cable and self-propelled vehicles are one and the same. They are not, and to design and build a station prior to technology selection is a tremendous mistake that costs time and money in the future.

Mercifully, this did not happen with the Mandalay Bay. Station and maintenance design was left till after technology choice. Once cable had been selected, engineers familiar with the technology designed stations in tandem with architects to maximize visual effect while providing for every practicality associated with cable.

As such, the Mandalay Bay system has one of the most complete and user-friendly maintenance bays in the bottom-supported cable transit world. A full workshop and spare parts shop is located below the system, allowing technicians to conduct preventative maintenance at all hours of the day.

A recent tour of a similar system in Toronto, Canada (to be discussed in a future series) suffered from the opposite. Stations and maintenance bays were designed beforehand. As such, the facilities are both oversized in some places and undersized in others. It is a station design that is completely inappropriate for cable technology and Toronto’s weather. This adds significant costs and significant frustration to daily maintenance.

I cannot overemphasize this point enough: If you are even considering cable as a transit choice, do not (I REPEAT: DO NOT!!!) design and build the stations before you’ve officially chosen cable. You will save your self heaps of time, tons of trouble, and hours of bitching from justifiably-irritated-and-inconvenienced maintenance workers.

Cable’s special. Not snowflake special, but special nevertheless. Treat it that way.

Mandalay Bay Station. Image by Steven Dale.

The true beauty of the Mandalay Bay cable car is that the system’s practical requirements are met perfectly, yet with a high degree of flair and style. The stations are part of the overall experience, they aren’t merely practical. Even by Vegas standards, the stations are attractive.

The same can be said for the vehicles themselves. MGM actually holds a patent on the design for the vehicles and they are unique to MGM resorts. The noses are far more pointed than traditional Doppelmayr cable cars and this gives them an aggressive, purposeful appearance.

Admittedly, the vehicles have suffered from vandalism and wear over the years. It’s the kind of vandalism, too, that can’t just be fixed with scrubbing (scratchiti and the like). Parts would have to be replaced and in this economic climate, MGM has chosen state of good repair maintenance over replacing vandalized or worn parts. Small spots of rust are visible on the guideway.

Nevertheless, the Mandalay Bay cable car is a true joy. As stated in a previous article, this is an incredibly reliable system. That it was built for a fraction of the price of a comparable self-propelled system is all the better.

Next time you’re in Vegas, ride this thing. Ride it hard. It can take it.

 

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.



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Analysis / Cable Cars / Las Vegas / Mandalay Bay / Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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02
Mar

2010

Mandalay Bay Cable Car, Part 2

I recently travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada to explore that city’s two public cable systems. This is Part 2 of a 3 Part report on the Mandalay Bay Cable Car.

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car is the kind of cable installation I love. It’s a modest, unassuming workhorse that demonstrates why cable is just so attractive a technology. It’s fast, it’s got heft and it just feels right. I know it’s impossible to quantify such a subjective concept, but – believe me – I’ve ridden several cable systems that didn’t feel right and this one does. In fact, it feels almost perfect.

The system operates 24 hours per day, 365 days of the year with a total downtime of less than 0.5%. It operates above 30 km/hr and it can move between 1,500 and 3,000 pphpd depending on your calculation. The lack of a specific capacity is due to two major factors:

The Mandaly Bay Cable Car Map. Note the Express Line and the Local Circulator Line. Image by Steven Dale.

FIRST. Because it is a hotel resort system, capacity is at least somewhat determined by people with luggage. As anyone who comes to Vegas will do so with luggage, that luggage must be accommodated for. The more luggage, the less people. This fact somewhat artificially drives down the stated capacity of the system. During times of conferences and conventions, when people from all over Vegas descend on the Mandalay Bay, the system operates well over stated capacity without trouble, a testament to the previous statement.

SECOND. The system actually operates two separate independent shuttles. One is an express connecting the Excalibur and Mandalay Bay resorts in a single swift minute, whereas the second line is a local connector with intermediary stops at the Luxor and a second Excalibur station. This is a revolutionary alignment that most higher order transit technologies don’t even accomplish.

This dual track, dual purpose configuration, however, complicates matters of capacity as well as questions of connectivity.

From the main Excalibur Terminal, there is no direct connection to the Luxor or the secondary Excalibur station. To access either of those stations, one must first take the express line to Mandalay Bay, then transfer to the local and retrace backwards to either the Luxor or Excalibur intermediary station.

It’s a truly ludicrous design to any rational transit planner. But remember: This is Las Vegas. Transportation and rationality are completely anathema to this world. The purpose of the Mandaly Bay system is not to get you to the Luxor or the secondary Excalibur station. The purpose is purely to get you to the Mandalay Bay.

It may be a piece of planning absurdity, but it’s also a piece of marketing genius, and it was intentional according to those I spoke with who work with the system. Any movement on the cable car is filtered through Mandalay Bay, ensuring maximum exposure.

It is, in essence, the Freemium Model of public transit. Mobility is offered to everyone and anyone free of charge, the price is allowing oneself to be exposed to one giant Mandalay Bay advertisement. It was no mistake, after all, that the Mandalay Bay station is located deep within the heart of the complex, whereas the other stations require a long walk through their respective casinos.

So is it transit? No. But does that question really matter? I don’t think so. The Mandalay Bay cable car was always much more about marketing than it was about mobility. It’s important to analyze a system based upon its strategic goals. Not only has the cable car been an enormous marketing success, it has also (bizarrely) succeeded as transit in ways other Vegas transit systems haven’t, namely the Las Vegas Monorail.

The Las Vegas Monorail. A perpetual money-loser, the Monorail has a spotty technical record and is increasingly underutilized. Image by Steven Dale

Whereas the not-for-profit owned Las Vegas monorail is far longer and offers better connectivity, it is so much more irrelevant than the Mandalay Bay system. One doesn’t even know the monorail exists and one really doesn’t care to. In fact, it’s totally common to find websites and forums that confuse the Mandalay Bay system for the Las Vegas Monorail. But at a $6 per trip price tag, it’s hard not to understand why the Las Vegas Monorail drives users away.

Ironically, the Las Vegas monorail as a fare-based system is a perpetual money loser that has struggled financially and technologically since it opened. The Mandalay Bay cable car, meanwhile, is free and is seen by its owners as a complete success. So much so, MGM has just recently opened a second cable system linking three other resorts (more on that system in the future).

I’ll wrap up this report tomorrow with a discussion about the Mandalay Bay cable car’s visual aesthetics and station design.

 

Continue to Part 3.

Click here to read Part 1.



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Analysis / Cable Cars / Las Vegas / Mandalay Bay / Monorails / Urban Planning & Design
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01
Mar

2010

Mandalay Bay Cable Car, Part 1

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car. Image by Steven Dale.

I recently travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada to explore that city’s two public cable systems. This is Part 1 of a 3 Part report on the Mandalay Bay Cable Car.

In the late 1990’s, the MGM group wanted to build a new casino in Las Vegas. The new casino – dubbed The Mandalay Bay – would be MGM’s sprawling take on a tropical paradise with far less emphasis on the kitsch the company had become associated with. The Mandalay Bay was not to be another Luxor or Excalibur.

Virtually all of MGM’s resort holdings in Las Vegas are located in one cluster at the interesection of Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd. On the north-east corner is the MGM Grand. On the north-west is the New York, New York and the Monte Carlo. On the south-west corner is the Excalibur and Luxor. The Mandalay Bay was to be located south of the Luxor, one kilometer away from Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd, much too far away from the action.

This presented a problem to MGM executives. A walk from the Grand, New York New York or, really, any of the MGM resorts would simply take too long. The friction of distance would either limit tourists’ spending or they would simply avoid Mandalay Bay entirely.

Movement is hard in Las Vegas. Intentionally so. The more people are walking around, the less they’re spending money. The casinos and resorts are designed in such a way that once you’re in, it’s very hard to get out. Exits are rare and placed as far away from suites as possible. It’s an exercise in social control where conspicuous consumption is the desired outcome.

The solution needed to be a short, high-speed transit link. The link had to be cheap, easy to maintain, available 24 hours a day, open to the general public and – most importantly – free of charge.

The answer was an elevated cable car system designed and manufactured by Doppelmayr. Completed in 1999, it was the first bottom-supported cable system by the Austrian cable transit giant behind such installations as the Peak 2 Peak and the Galzigbahn. Doppelmayr had little experience in bottom-supported systems other than funiculars and this presented a whole new set of challenges.

Mandalay Bay Cable Car en route to Excalibur Hotel (in background). Image by Steven Dale.

Built for a total cost of $26 million (1999 US), the Mandalay Bay cable car was remarkably cost-effective. The system and guideway itself only cost $16 million while the four integrated stations made up the rest of the total investment.

This was a very inexpensive system to build considering its capabilities (to be discussed tomorrow). While I have no evidence to support the following claim, I reason that the cost of the system had as much to do with the manufacturer’s desire to penetrate the urban people mover market as it did with the cost-effectiveness of the technology. Nevertheless, cost-savings accrued due to one major innovation:

Unlike previous Las Vegas cable propelled systems at Circus Circus and the Mirage, the Mandalay Bay system would utilize a modular steel truss guideway. This guideway – which could be manufactured off-site in a controlled environment – was cheaper to build than traditional concrete guideways that were far more typical of the time. Even today, concrete guideways are standard on almost all self-propelled people mover systems due to load-bearing requirements.

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car connects three MGM properties: The Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur. Image by Steven Dale.

The steel guideway also had the added benefits of less aesthetic intrusion on the urban environment and the ability to transmit light to the the areas below it. It had not, however, been demonstrated in a cable system to date except in a demo site at one of Doppelmayr’s manufacturing facilities.

Despite having no track record to speak of, the guideway was a tremendous breakthrough and is now standard on almost every Doppelmayr bottom-supported system.

Tomorrow in Part 2 of this report, I’ll discuss the capabilities of the Mandalay Bay system and some of its finer and unique qualities.

 

Continue to Part 2.

Click here to read Part 3.



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Analysis / Cable Cars / Case Studies / Installations / Las Vegas / Urban Planning & Design
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