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Idea: Accurate Ride Wait Times Via Season Pass Crowdsourcing
If you’re like me, one of the biggest drawbacks to visiting theme parks is the long ride wait times. As much as I love the rides, especially roller coasters, I just don’t understand how people can stand in a slow moving line for 60, 90, or even 120 minutes for a two minute ride. I simply no longer have the patience for that. To make matters worse, you usually have no idea how long a line really is until after you’ve gotten in it and followed it to the end. It’s not like you can take a look at it and instantly know how long it’s going to take, especially when the parks intentionally hide the queues to prevent just that.
To help with this issue, some parks do post wait times at the entrance to the ride to let people know how long the current wait time is. Unfortunately, these are often horribly wrong and can trick you into getting in a line that is much longer than the posted wait time. There are a variety of methods they employ for this, but none of them are very accurate.
Some parks will periodically hand a guest at the ride entrance a piece of paper with the current time on it. When they get to the other end of the line, right before boarding the ride, the guest is supposed to hand it back to another employee who calculates the time difference and posts it as the new current wait time. This is an accurate wait time for that guest, but if nobody happened to get in line behind them then the actual wait time could be much shorter than they just posted. Conversely, if the line grew longer after the guest got in it, than the posted wait time will be less than the actual wait time. Until they send another piece of paper through the queue, the posted wait time may not be accurate. Another problem with this method is that not every guest remembers to return the piece of paper after getting through the line. If it was a long wait, they may have completely forgotten about it by the time they reach the end of the line and instead be thinking about finally boarding the ride.
In my opinion, the worst method some parks employ is a static sign that say something like “60 Minutes From This Point.” While that may be true under certain circumstances, there are way too many variables not being taken into consideration. Are they running 1, 2, or 3 trains? Is there somebody taking head counts and directing guests into specific air gates to fill every seat? Is the ride op crew hustling or taking their time? How many Fast Pass guests are slipping into the line ahead of you? Any one (or more) of these issues can severely affect ride operations, slowing down the line to a snail’s pace.
Most of these static signs have a number that can be changed. For example, I’ve seen an employee walk out and change the “45” to “60” minutes. How they knew the current wait time was 60 minutes was beyond me, as they weren’t using a piece of paper moving through the queue. I’ve seen these signs get updated only to have large groups of people immediately hop in line afterwards, but the sign doesn’t get changed again. I’ve also seen guests change these numbers as soon as the employee walked away, so you’re never really sure that they’re accurate anyway.
Now that we’re living in the future, and everyone has a smartphone on them at all times, there are a variety of apps that claim to accurately track ride wait times. The way they work is crowdsourcing. These apps give you the ability to enter how long you waited in a line for a particular ride. There are multiple problems with this method. First of all, not everybody is going to want to pull out their phone, open an app, and log a wait time. What’s in it for them? Second, those that do probably aren’t all using the same app, so the user pool is greatly diminished even more. Third, those who do are probably not very accurate in how long the wait actually was. It may have felt like they were in line for an hour, which is what they log, but it may have only been 40 minutes. Some people even log bogus times when they’re not even at the park, just to screw with people. You can typically launch one of these apps and look at a park during a day that it’s closed and see the wait times fluctuating, even though nobody is in the park. Not good. Lastly, whether they’re accurate or not, who actually sees these wait times? That’s right…only the people that are using that particular app. It does the rest of the 99+% of park guests absolutely no good whatsoever.
I think I’ve come up with a system that is not only highly accurate, but it’s also relatively inexpensive for parks to implement and there are benefits for both the park and the guests. The way it works is for a season pass holder to pass the barcode of their season pass under a fixed barcode reader mounted at the entrance to the ride as they enter. When they get to the other end of the line, they scan their pass again under another barcode reader right as they get to the air gates. A computer calculates the time between the two scans and updates the current wait time on a display back out at the entrance to the ride. Since there would presumably be many people doing this all day long, it would be virtually impossible for any one person, or a small group of people, to game the system. If a pass gets scanned at the front of the line, and never gets scanned on the other end, that entry would eventually be purged from the system after a number of passes that were scanned after it complete their second scan. Conversely, passes that are only scanned on the back end would not be used, as there wouldn’t be a scan from the entrance to calculate a time from.
The current wait time would always be displayed at the ride entrance via an electronic reader board that couldn’t be messed with by guests. All of the current ride times could also be grouped and displayed on reader boards all over the park and inside restaurants. Guests would constantly be heading to whatever rides have the shortest wait time, distributing the park crowds and evening out the queues all over the park. Additionally, a park could go even further and add these wait times to their park’s smartphone app, assuming they have one. These displays would also be a great place to advertise rides that are closed so that guests don’t hike halfway around the park only to find that their favorite ride has been unexpectedly closed.
In addition to the accurate wait times for park guests, a park could also easily incentivize the use of the system by tying it into a rewards program. For example, for every 20 complete scans, in and out of a ride line, you could get a free front of line pass. Or for every 50 scans you get a free meal. Passes, food, merchandise – there is a myriad of things a park could give away to motivate people to use the system. Everything could be tracked electronically and all of the rewards could be stored on the season pass.
So far, I’ve only talked about season pass holders, but the barcodes on the day tickets could work as well. They obviously wouldn’t get all the same rewards as a season pass holder, but kids would have fun scanning the tickets on each ride, further improving the accuracy of the system. The rewards program would serve as one more incentive for people to upgrade to a season pass. If the Marketing people were smart, they’d come up with a reason for day ticket holders to register their tickets online after the fact. Not only would this give the Marketing department contact information of previously unknown park guests to market to, but they could also provide discount coupons for future visits as a thank you for helping out or maybe a deal on an upgrade to a season pass.
The possibilities are endless and the barrier to entry is minimal. All it would cost a park is a couple of inexpensive barcode readers per ride, a simple time display, and some software programming. They could start small by testing it on a single ride to see how it performs and if people are willing to use it. That’s a relatively inexpensive system for the improvement it makes to the overall guest experience, the guest loyalty it will build, and the Marketing opportunities it provides.
I would very much like to see my local park, Six Flags Magic Mountain, implement something like this. Heck, I think the entire Six Flags chain would benefit from it! I already contacted Six Flags Corporate, saying I had an idea to share for them to greatly improve their guest experience, and asked who the appropriate contact would be. I didn’t tell them exactly what it was because I didn’t know if they had a policy against accepting unsolicited ideas or not. I got a very quick response saying that the appropriate person would get back to me shortly to discuss. That was back in July and I’m still waiting to hear from someone. Oh well. I honestly don’t care which park does something like this, but I would like to see it in action. I just hope somebody does actually do it and it’s close enough for me to go check it out in person.
What are your thoughts on this? Would you use it? What are the downsides I may be overlooking?