For a long time, the Vegas Strip has been nearly impassable via car. Particularly on a weekend night, the volume of traffic makes everyone crawl at a snail’s pace. Back in the days when I rented a car each time I was there, I knew the side streets and back entrances of the places I went, so I was rarely on The Strip.
With the advent of ride-sharing, it’s cheaper for me to get around via Lyft than to rent a car but, unfortunately, some of those drivers insist on taking me via The Strip. It reminds me how Vegas cabbies used to rip off tourists by purposely taking slower routes to increase their fares. Some of these Lyft drivers insist they have to follow the directions on the app’s routing software, but I’m usually able to talk them off of that and onto parallel streets like Koval, Frank Sinatra, or others that aren’t as packed as Las Vegas Boulevard.
Sometimes, the congestion starts before you even get in the car.
This weekend, my brother-in-law Stuart and I played Pot Limit Omaha in the Aria poker room one night, and then headed somewhere we couldn’t walk to, so we requested a Lyft. Until last year, the pickup spot for Lyft and Uber at Aria was right outside the north valet entrance, just past where incoming traffic can drop off passengers, with several lanes of access. But someone at Aria apparently decided that was working too well, so they moved the pickup zone downstairs.
The problem is there’s only one lane down there, so all of the drivers get stacked up and only one party can get into a car at a time. When the passengers for the lead car aren’t there yet (they may have used the app when they left their hotel room and haven’t arrived downstairs before the driver), everything stands still for a minute or two until a security guard tells the driver to pull around. Friday night, we were leaving Aria at 3am after a long poker session and didn’t want to walk back to our hotel, The Mirage. Unfortunately, at the Aria ride-share pickup point, we ran into several groups of men and women who were drunk and worn out from partying in the Aria’s nightclub, all impatiently waiting for their own Lyft or Uber. It must have taken 20 minutes for the driver who was picking me up to make it through the queue to where I could get in.
While I understand how any large number of vehicles can cause a bottleneck, Aria has made it worse by forcing everyone into this traffic funnel. It’s not only annoying for those of us being picked up, but also for the drivers, for whom time is money. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some of them have stopped picking up passengers at Aria because of this bad decision.
It’s not just the vehicles that are jam-packed on The Strip — the sidewalks have become overcrowded, as well. You may have heard that while Vegas tourism is up, casino revenue is down. The reason is simple: most Americans live within driving distance of a casino, so there’s no novelty in flying across the country just to play blackjack or the slots. It’s different than the era in which, when you wanted to gamble legally, you had to go to Nevada or Atlantic City. Nowadays, Vegas visitors are more likely there to get drunk on cheap booze (they often start even before they board the plane!), see a show, drink some more, and stroll down The Strip to see the sights. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re on a budget and it’s your first time, but with so few tourists heading indoors, the outdoors overflows with a sea of humanity from mid-morning until late at night.
My complaint is they’re all going far too slowly for my pace. Over thirty years of visiting Vegas, I’ve seen all there is to see on The Strip, so if I’m walking from one place to another, it’s because I’m trying to get into a poker game at my destination, or meeting a friend for dinner. But first, I have to navigate through the throng of meanderers combined with the dozens of people who must stop in the middle of the sidewalk for yet another selfie to post on Instagram.
One last ride-share story, for now. Monday morning, my Lyft driver to the airport, Joseph, had some kind of European accent. I’m terrible at discerning where people are from, but this time I figured it out quickly. When he placed my suitcase into his trunk and closed the lid, he used an expression only Greeks use that is never whispered, always spoken as if capitalized: “OPA!” He also said it every time we hit a speed bump or stopped at a traffic light, which made me giggle a little. I was also amused when the GPS system on his phone gave him directions three or four times about an upcoming turn, to which he replied, “Okay, I heard you, stop talking to me!”
I started to tell Joseph he could turn off the voice directions in the app, but he was already in the middle of another “OPA!”