The Las Vegas Convention Center Loop
An Uber-like System with Exclusive Roadways
The Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) Loop is a circulation system for the sprawling LVCC consisting of two parallel tunnels, each 0.85 miles long, with a surface station at each end and an underground station in the middle. The bottoms of the tunnels are filled with gravel and asphalt to produce a flat roadway one lane wide. Passengers are carried in manually driven Tesla electric sedans and SUVs. On June 8, 2021 it opened to the public and was available at no charge to all attendees of the World of Concrete (WOC) convention.
Passenger boarding a Tesla at the Las Vegas Convention Center West Station
LVCC LOOP AS A PROTOTYPE FOR LARGER SYSTEMS
While the LVCC Loop is interesting in itself, it can also be viewed as a small-scale demonstration of how a larger system which also used manually driven electric vehicles in tunnels would operate. The developer of the LVCC Loop, the Boring Company, has proposed such a system it calls the Vegas Loop. This would consist of tunnels running mostly along Las Vegas Blvd (the “Strip”) from McCarran airport to the Las Vegas CBD, with 43 medium-sized stations generally serving hotels and casinos. The Vegas Loop is projected to have a capacity of 51,000 boardings per hour. Both the LVCC Loop and the Vegas Loop are essentially Uber or Lyft-type systems, but with their own underground roadways to avoid surface traffic. For trips along the heavily congested Strip this could reduce travel time by as much as an order of magnitude. The short travel times would mean that the labor cost of human drivers would not be excessive.
With the Vegas Loop’s large number of stations, small vehicles are a reasonable choice since the probability of two independent passengers at an origin station wanting to go to the same destination at the same time is low. The Vegas Loop’s use of human drivers rather than automation would affect how the system would be regulated. This is important in various ways including eliminating the extensive testing that would be required by a large automated system, and possibly in determining how the system would meet ADA requirements.
MEETING ADA REQUIREMENTS FOR WHEELCHAIR USERS
One aspect of LVCC Loop operation not widely publicized is how it serves passengers who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters. According to station attendants and drivers who were queried during the WOC convention, a wheelchair user would usually transfer from the chair to an ordinary passenger seat in the Tesla, possibly with driver assistance. The chair or scooter would then be folded up and carried in the trunk or back seat. If the chair were too large to fit inside, the rider would be assigned one of the vehicles with a trailer hitch type wheelchair carrier (similar to a bicycle carrier), so the empty chair could be carried behind the Tesla’s rear bumper. Finally, in less frequent cases where the rider cannot easily get out of the chair, a special accessible van (not made by Tesla) would be driven to the station to serve the rider. This approach to ADA compliance would presumably also be used in the larger Vegas Loop system.
COMPARISON WITH PERSONAL RAPID TRANSIT
Loop systems have much in common with Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), which is also based on small vehicles on exclusive guideways. Both systems use off-line berths for passenger loading/unloading, thus greatly increasing capacity by not blocking vehicles bypassing the station. However, LVCC Loop vehicles entering or leaving stations decelerate or accelerate on the main line, not on separate ramps as has been proposed for most PRT systems. This results in more compact stations, but limits the minimum possible headway and thus capacity. The headways used by the LVCC Loop appear long enough to allow brick wall stopping, but its not known if this will be the case for the Vegas Loop.
There is no reason to expect empty vehicle routing for Loop systems to differ significantly from PRT, and routing algorithms developed for Loop operation could in theory be used for PRT as well. As far as vehicles are concerned, in the short and medium term most or all Loop vehicles will be stock Tesla sedans and SUVs, and their berths will be simple flat surfaces. This will preclude level boarding, which is a feature of most PRT proposals (and actual systems, such as Ultra at Heathrow airport in London). Perhaps the most fundamental difference between Loop and PRT is Loop’s use of human drivers. Even if some automation is added, such as lane centering in tunnels, it is not expected that the driver will be removed in the immediate future. This is in contrast to PRT which has always been assumed to be driverless.
MANUAL DRIVERS OFFER DUAL-MODE POTENTIAL
It is not clear if the proposed Vegas Loop would involve vehicles traveling only on exclusive roadways in tunnels. With manual drivers it is feasible for vehicles to exit the system and travel part of a trip on conventional roadways mixed in with normal traffic. This might be the most efficient approach for many trips.