Mandalay Bay

09
Jun

2010

I can’t see the difference, can you see the difference?

As some people know, there’s a huge subset of bottom-supported cable transit in the form of Cable Cars & Funiculars. Yet it’s a topic I’ve not given much attention to so far. Here’s why:

It’s hard to get people’s attention with Cable Cars. Urban Gondolas? Much simpler.

Back in March I was interviewed for an online news magazine called The Mark News. Bizarrely, as I was talking about bottom-supported systems; the following image was shown:

This picture is from The Gondola Project, but it’s not of a cable transit system. It is, in fact, a Monorail (they kindly re-edited the piece correcting for the error). Is it a big error? I’d say so. But it was also completely understandable. After all, this is what most Cable Car systems look like today:

The Pearson Airport Link in Toronto. Image by Squiggle.

I can’t see the difference, can you see the difference?

The reason gondolas grab people’s attention is because they look different immediately. You don’t need to understand the nuances between cable-propelled trains versus self-propelled trains. With a gondola, you see the cable and it’s up in the air. You don’t need an explanation. That’s both their blessing and their curse: Gondolas look so different from any other form of transit they can quickly arouse fear and suspicion in people. But they can also inspire curiosity.

One way or another, at least people pay attention.

The challenge the Cable Car industry faces is how to differentiate their technology from Automated People Movers (APM), Monorails and Light Rail. Because right now, most people don’t even know there’s a difference.



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Cable Cars / Mandalay Bay
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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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18
Feb

2010

The Las Vegas Cable Cars

The Mandalay Bay Tram. Image by Steven Dale

I just returned from touring the Mandalay Bay and City Centre cable transit systems in Las Vegas. There’s much to say about both, but I’ll leave a more complex analysis for another day.

When it came to american public transit back in the late 1800’s, cable cars ruled the roost. One of the major hassles and costs associated with the systems, however, was the cable itself. No one knew how long one would last. Rare was the cable that lasted two years and most lasted less than one single year.

Replacing a cable was complex and expensive. In some instances, cable maintenance and replacement were the single largest operating expenses any cable transit operator faced.

Things change. Fast-forward 130 years later . . .

The Mandalay Bay Cable Car's Back-Up Cable. Image by Steven Dale

Above is a spool of cable for the Mandalay Bay Cable Car. It was a back-up, intended to replace the original cable once its lifespan had eclipsed. It arrived in the maintenance facility 11 years ago, when the tram first opened to the public in 1999. It’s never been touched, never been used. Why?

Because even after 11 years of operation and hundreds of millions of riders, the Mandalay Bay Cable Car is still using its original rope. Eleven years.

Things change.



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Cable Cars / Installations / Mandalay Bay
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