Yesterday Ryan posted about the dread he feels at the prospect of one day having to take his daughter to an amusement park.
Specifically, I’m dreading the queues. Endless, winding queues, lasting hours, all to ride a roller coaster for two minutes.
He proposes the creation of a market for individual rides — whether through actual pricing or some sort of scrip — which would help shorten lines and, hopefully, do a better job of letting customers use the attractions they value most.
I don’t like this idea! I am a roller coaster enthusiast — though each visit to a theme park makes it clearer that adult bodies are physiologically unsuited for such entertainments — and I would hate to have to participate in a market for rides. I’m sure it would lead to more efficient outcomes in a narrow sense. But the increasing body of literature around the power of “free” as a price point indicates why this would still be a drag: freedom from calculation, judgment and decision-making has utility all its own. This would be no kind of way to run a society, but for entertainment it often makes a lot of sense to excuse people from the burden of weighing pros and cons. Folks really like all-you-can-eat buffets, even if they have to pay a little more. Besides, nobody wants to take their kid to the park and be asked why the rich families don’t have to wait in line.
Fortunately, I think technology can save us (surprise!). Disney’s got something called FASTPASS that lets park visitors claim an electronic reservation for a ride, then wander around the park until the appointed time. Limits on the each customers’ number of simultaneously-held reservations are enforced to prevent opportunistic oversubscription, and dynamic displays showing the expected wait times help regulate demand across the park’s attractions. You spend much less time in line listening to the loud, looping and probably-broken pre-ride video presentation, and the park has successfully put you back into the market for games, concessions and other add-ons. Everyone wins! Plus, with the ubiquity of mobile phones, the up-front cost to implementing such a system is driven way, way down — all you need to do is hand out some ziploc bags to make the system log flume-compatible.
So there. I think these systems will proliferate, solve Ryan’s worry, AND still provide enough interesting data for an econ paper or two. I think everyone can get excited about that.