Keep ahead of customer entertainment needs

It was pitch black as I steered the old Brill across the Kansas prairie on a moonless night. A bazillion stars did little to light the two-lane road, so the only bright spot was the long blue flame coming from the exhaust pipe. We were a “muffler optional” outfit, and tuning the 797 cubic-inch, gasoline-fired Hall Scott for maximum efficiency provided a sort of “afterburner” affect.

Something stirred in the aisle behind me, and suddenly a couple of hands began rubbing my shoulders. One of the group’s chaperones (an attractive young lady) had started giving me a back rub. That is an entertainment system.

At first it was flattering; I assumed she liked me. Sadly, it became apparent that it was self-preservation—her attempt to keep me awake, so I wouldn’t allow the bus to wander astray.

This was an early form of en-route entertainment. The only alternative back then was bringing a book.

Soon coach builders began installing PA’s, and some drivers discovered they could have fun (and earn tips) by being funny while making announcements. PA’s evolved to systems that could play radio, music, and by the 1980s…videos. Almost every charter coach ordered in that era had a comprehensive entertainment system, and many older buses were retrofitted.

They were a bit like the music lessons your mom made you take in third grade: You had to have them, even if you didn’t ever use them.

As an industry, we were unsuccessful at getting customers to pay for using these jewels.

Now the entertainment pendulum is slowly swinging back. Both line and charter passengers bring their own entertainment in the form of smart phones and tablets. All they want from the coach is WiFi and charging ports. Each has a personalized experience. Sadly you still end up providing those expensive video systems for pre-trip briefings, and the odd group who all like the same movie.

When you’re buying a coach today, there are a couple of things to consider regarding entertainment options for your passengers. If the vast majority of your customers rarely use the coach video, why not opt for fewer, smaller monitors? Not only do they meet your passengers’ needs, they don’t clutter up the view (and fewer folks bump their heads).

WiFi is a different animal, and it takes more brain cells than I have to understand the options. Make sure you get “enough” so that customers aren’t irritated by slowdowns. I learned the hard way that “bandwidth” and “cummerbund” are not synonyms.

You might look into filtering content. It’s none of our business what a client looks at, but if they accidentally give a child sitting next to them an inappropriate biology lesson, there could be a problem.

Consider using a password. Some folks have discovered that by following a coach close enough, they can pirate its WiFi. Your bus ends up leading a close-knit formation of miscreants who think it’s okay to email and drive.

When ordering or refurbishing a bus, give serious thought to what your passengers need. All those wires and doo-dads go in a lot easier before the seats and parcel racks are installed.

Several years ago a Great Big Busline saved a few bucks by not installing power outlets. They spent twice as much money retrofitting those coaches, and cursing may have occurred.

Frankly, it would be nice if entertainment systems would revert all the way back to the early days. It’s been 50 years and I still wonder what happened to that young lady.


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