Posts Tagged: Roller Coasters



Thought Experiment: Should Roller Coaster Designers Design Public Transit?

Image by flickr user Mike D.

Disclaimer: This post in no way, shape, form or description advocates using roller coasters or thrill park rides as mass public transit.

Should Roller Coaster Engineers and Theme Park Designers participate in the design of public transit?

Probably an insane idea; no doubt completely and 100%. But also probably worth exploring, if only in a space as limited as a short thought experiment on a niche blog.

To begin, a presumption: Thrill Ride Engineers and Designers are very much in the same business as Public Transport Planners.

Though neither is likely to admit it, both at their cores are in the business of moving people in pursuit of a larger goal. Neither move people just for the sake of moving them.

Public Transport agencies move people for a whole host of reasons: Increased mobility, social inclusion, economic development, decreased car emissions, traffic reduction, etc., etc., etc. Rarely, however, do transit agencies consider such things as enjoyability to be an important motivator behind transit planning decisions.

Roller Coaster Designers, meanwhile, move people in order to evoke a feeling from riders. That feeling can be awe, terror, joy, whatever, but the fundamental work of a Roller Coaster Designer is to provoke an emotion in people that would not exist if not for the environment and motion that designer creates.

Yet despite their implicit similarity, the metrics used to measure success in each industry are completely different: The first is quantitative, cold and mathematical. The second is qualitative, experiential and emotional.

A second presumption: Public transit ridership is at least in part dictated by the enjoyability of the ride itself.

Public transit ridership is oftentimes low in western society. Furthermore, people who ride public transit tend to do so grudgingly and are only willing to pay a few dollars at most per trip. If we believe the second presumption to be true (which it may not be), then we can logically assume that part of the reason for this low ridership and grudging acceptance is due to a dissatisfaction with the enjoyability of the system itself.

On the flip side, groups of families and friends will travel great distances for the privilege of attending a theme park, spend hundreds of dollars to do so and be willing to stand in lines of an hour or more for the thrill of a two minute ride. Again, the enjoyability of the ride experience must therefore be high enough such that large volumes of people are motivated to endure significant hardship merely for the pleasure of a short ride.

This isn’t to say we need roller coasters instead of public transport (though some people will surely decide that’s exactly what I’m saying).

It is to say, however, that if ridership and ride enjoyability are connected then in order to increase public transit ridership we must therefore improve the experience of public transportation. It might therefore be wise to consult with individuals who actually understand those emotional things which are currently lacking in our assumptions and models about public transit ridership.

Hence Roller Coaster Engineers and Theme Park Designers.

Humans, after all, are emotional creatures and it seems logical to engage with people who understand how the emotional experience of transportation impacts a human’s heart, mind and soul and how we can best calibrate those experiences to best align with a transit agencies’ need for increased ridership.

And again, just because the internet has a way of twisting people’s words: This was a thought experiment. I don’t believe we should be replacing public transit with thrill rides and roller coasters.

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