Disney How To

How To Improve Walt Disney World Transportation

Walt Disney World Disney Transportation Van Hool diecast busPROGRESS CITY USA has posted #3 on their list of TEN WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR:  OVERHAUL DISNEY TRANSPORTATION, and I couldn’t agree more.

To quote:

Basically, unless you’re just going from your hotel to a theme park and back, internal transportation is a headache. Fixing the system would require a massive investment, tackling many separate goals simultaneously. It would require an entirely different plan for the resort’s infrastructure, and it’s needed immediately. They won’t do it, but they should.

I have one suggestion that would address this current transportation problem at Walt Disney World with an idea that would dramatically increase guest satisfaction.  It won’t solve the immediate issue at hand, but keeping guests happy in the short run can buy some time until a better transporation plan is developed.

From the visual styling of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in the 60’s and 70’s (the Monorail and Skyway taking passengers through the air; the Autopia and Matterhorn ferrying guests across the ground; and the Submarines plunging through watery depths) to Walt Disney World realizing Walt’s dream of the Monorail transforming from mere attraction to a functional part of the whole park experience – I’m not going to rehash what other people have said better, about how Disneyland and Walt Disney World were built around utilizing unique forms of transportation. 

As such, there are many people who would love to see the buses eliminated from Walt Disney World.  That said, the WDW bus system is not going to go away. 

For many reasons, it is more practical and economical for Disney to use buses than it is for them to sink (almost literally) millions upon millions of dollars into extending the Monorail system or build a WEDWay system to all the various areas of the Walt Disney World resort.   Could the buses themselves be more environmentally friendly?  Sure.  But that’s not why we’re here today.

Is the WDW bus system efficient?  Not hardly.  As Progress City USA stated,

Let me make up a scenario off the top of my head. Let’s say that a guest is staying at Coronado Springs, and they want to go to EPCOT in the morning, do some shopping at the Village for lunch, go back to their hotel to change and wind up at the California Grill for dinner.

The biggest flaw in any of the bus-related touring plans all surround getting back and forth from Downtown Disney to the parks, or from one specific hotel to another (for a dinner reservation at Animal Kingdom Lodge, if one was staying at Port Orleans, for example).  If WDW enforced their stated benefit of staying on the Walt Disney World property (emphasis mine):

Complimentary transportation throughout Walt Disney World Resort is available via bus, boat or monorail for Guests staying at a select Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

then there would be no problem at all in having bus transportation directly from the parks to Downtown Disney, or from one hotel directly to another.  When boarding the bus, you just have to scan your room key.  Card not active?  You can’t get on the bus.   Same thing would hold true for the “local” Monorail that stops at the Contemporary and Grand Floridian: you can’t get in line without an active keycard.

But let’s say that Disney began to enforce this rule, that park transportation is only for guests staying on-property.  Disney never enforced this before,  and guests who stayed off-property who are used to taking Disney transportation everywhere – for free – would throw a major tantrum.  How would you feel if you suddently were cut off from using something that you had used for free before?  Guest Services would be inundated with complaint calls if Disney went this route.

Disney could offset some of the transportation costs by lowering overall ticket prices for guests who stay on property, and charging more for guests who just buy tickets with no intention of staying on-site.  Again, a solution with many problems if implemented

No, neither of those two ideas would lead to increased guest satisfaction.

But here’s something that would:

Disney already has GPS systems installed on the buses so Disney can track where the buses are at any given moment.  Disney also knows approximately how long it takes for a bus to get from one pickup point to the next one.

All Disney needs to do is to install automatic displays at each bus stop indicating when the next bus is scheduled to arrive for each destination.

When a bus arrives at a destination, the driver presses a GPS button, stopping the clock to calculate current travel time between stops.  When a bus leaves a destination, the driver presses the button on the GPS again, sending a signal to the master schedule that the bus is enroute.  Master Control then updates the signs at the following stops with expected arrival times.  Dispatch would also know approximately how long it takes to load the bus at each stop and can adjust the display times to take that into account as well.

Some benefits:

  • Instead of having disgruntled guests sitting at the Magic Kingdom bus stop wondering where the bus for Pop Century is, they can see the sign that lists expected bus arrival times (“9 minutes; next bus: 15 minutes”) – allowing the guests to know if they have time to go grab a drink from the gift shop, run back to the room for some sunscreen, or if their friends will be able to catch up with them on this bus or will have to wait for the next one.
  • If an expected wait time exceeds 20 minutes, dispatch can send an additional bus to cover that particular route until the wait times become more reasonable.  Similarly if a wait time between two buses for the same destination is less than 2 minutes, the trailing bus can be rerouted to skip ahead a stop or two.
  • If a bus hasn’t shown up within 5 minutes of the expected arrival time, dispatch can be notified and have another bus rerouted, or can at least contact the lost driver to find out what’s wrong.  (One time it took me 45+ minutes to get from Epcot to the Wilderness Lodge by bus.  The explanation I received?  “It was a new driver, unfamiliar with the roads.”)

The same applies for boat launches or other transportation.  A few years ago we saw the late FANTASMIC show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  We had a choice as we exited the park: do we walk back to the hotel, or take the boat?  If a “next boat” sign was available, we would have known that the next boat would arrive in 30 minutes and it would have been faster to walk.  As the minutes passed as we waited an unspecified amount of time for the next boat, our satisfaction level kept dropping until we were no longer happy to be at the Happiest Place on Earth.

I would much rather know that I have 20 minutes until the next Typhoon Lagoon bus shows up instead of sitting, guessing, and complaining as each bus that pulls up isn’t the one I was waiting for.  Even worse is when two buses for the same destination pull up one within a minute of each other.  There’s no reason for that if the GPS/timing system was actively monitored.

Disney does an incredible job with monitoring attraction wait times inside the parks and communicating those to guests.  Why can’t Disney calculate wait times with their transportation offerings for guests who are outside the park turnstiles?

4 replies on “How To Improve Walt Disney World Transportation”

I LOVE the GPS idea! (In fact, I’ve often wished my local bus system would use such a GPS system, so I’d know if I had just missed the last bus or if it hadn’t come yet. Our buses are 30 minutes apart, so it makes a difference on a cold winter day. But I digress.) You’re right–the longer you have to wait or the longer it takes to get from point A to point B on property, the lower one’s satisfaction level with Disney transportation. (Especially when it’s late at night, and everyone’s tired and cranky, or when you have a dining reservation to catch.)

At the very least, there should be buses (maybe not as large as the park buses; maybe vans) that go directly from resort to resort. It’s so time-consuming to transfer, I always wind up paying for a cab.

I definitely agree that Disney should be communicating wait times for outside-of-park transportation, especially at peak times such as park closing times.

I have a some additional thoughts…On days like July 4th (2011), with the park jam-packed, it took 95 minutes to go from park exit gate to car in the Magic Kingdom lot, via boat then tram — feeling like cattle packed in a stable. Disney’s transportation system can handle light to moderate traffic with ease, but cannot handle the volume of people they admit to the park on such special days. Also, as far as rides, without strategic use of FastPass privileges on such days, the park experience would be a waiting-line disaster too.

For “worst case” jam-packed conditions, it would help to have a second boat dock at both ends (expensive), and/or monorails with more cars, which is done in the train industry when there are more passengers to handle (right?) This would require a “load-move-ahead-and-load-more” operation due to the space available at each monorail loading platform, and might be risky as park-goers are not used to this). The other help would be a third mode of transportation to get to the ticket and transportation center — namely direct buses that are strictly used for this purpose and used exclusively at peak times.

Another idea is that Disney should accept public transportation buses within the park somewhere within walking distance of the ticket and trans center or Epcot. Other than special charter-type shuttle or long-haul buses, there does not seem to be any public transportation opportunities within the Disney compound. If one could take a public bus and avoid the current $14 parking fees all together (like is allowed at Sea World Orlando for example) that would take some stress off the Disney system, and give Disney the reputation of being more aware of the financial hardship parking fees have on their guests…of course, Disney would lose a lot of $14 fees, too — so I should quit dreaming on that one…

Last few things relate to trams — they emit diesel exhaust and I cannot figure out why Disney seems so concerned for guest safety and still allow that. Regarding frequency of trams, trams come one at a time at peak times. To get you to the parks, there is never much delay — the faster to the park to start spending money the better! But on departure, they tend to be slower or less frequent. With something like 50 passengers in each “row-queue” at jam times, and about 5 people per queue served by a tram, you still need to wait for 9 or 10 trams to get to the front of the queue and onto a tram. The trams come in serial fashion (one after another) and probably could be serving guests in a parallel fashion. That is, at peak times, there should be a parallel loading arrangement at the ticket and trans center so two trams can be loaded simultaneously. Combine that with a few more trams in circulation and a 30 minute wait to get to one’s car via tram could be cut in half.

Bottom line, Disney has a reputation for “world class” transportation, but its system fails miserably at peak times…I have experienced this several times over the years, and it isn’t getting any better… True world class systems would be able to better adapt to such jam conditions. For that reason, Disney is not worthy of any special praise for its transportation system in my estimation. Of course, Disney figures your magical time in the Magic Kingdom (or another park) will translate to forgiveness for being held captive and waiting in yet another long, long line to get to your car — as you can see, in my case, they are mistaken…Sea World, Kennedy Space Center and a few other attractions in Orlando offer such a refreshing change — where you can take one trolley to your hotel, or walk to your car in their lot and drive off — which after experiencing several boat-then-tram or monorail-then-tram Disney nightmares feels TRULY MAGICAL!

Hi Kevin – good points. We’ve also been to WDW on July 4th, and would not recommend visiting during that timeframe to others for various not-Disneys-fault reasons.

Keep in mind that the MK parking lot is so large that you could fit the entire Disneyland Resort in it, and still have parking left over. On busy days like July4, its inevitable that you’d have to wait for a parking tram to get you. Even the “up-close AAA parking” is no picnic and requires a little bit of a hike. Public buses are allowed on property – one stops at the Ticket and Transportation Center at the Magic Kingdom (Route LINK 56), for example. Other parks should be on other routes.

As for your perception of slower trams as you’re leaving vs arriving? That could be due to the tram drivers having to spend more time helping guests find their lost cars in the evening rather than the morning commute which is more structured in how they work.

Of course, a lot of what you describe at the TTC could be alleviated by staying on property. On-site park guests don’t have to jump through the parking lot-TTC hoop that non-Hotel guests do.

I agree wholeheartedly. The first thing Disney World should do is install automated displays at each stop showing the wait for the next two busses. Disney is way behind on this. These are standard in most cities rapid transit stops. (On my last trip (December 2013) there was a woman standing at the Port Orleans bus stop with a clipboard writing down the times of all the bus arrivals and departures. I thought, what a waste of effort. Can’t that all be tracked more easily and efficiently via GPS from a central location?)

Other suggestions that might make getting around a better experience:

Automated kiosks so guests can easily figure out the best way to get from point a to point b. Just touch where you want to go on the screen and it tells you what to do and the times of the next busses, boats, etc. “Contemporary to Boardwalk? Take a bus to Hollywood Studios then a boat to Boardwalk (or whatever). The next bus arrives in 3 minutes.”

Make people in motorized wheelchairs wait in line with everybody else. I understand letting them board first, but not to skip to the head of the line while everybody else has to wait for several busses. This causes a lot of frustration.

Better trained bus drivers. I’ve had several drivers make wrong turns or drop off passengers at the wrong places resulting in longer walks to park gates. We expect better.

More busses and larger busses.

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