When tourists head to New York City, odds are good the trip will involve taking a bus to the theater. One company has combined the two to create a theatre experience on wheels.
The Ride takes its riders through a tour of Manhattan with stops to see staged performances. With the sight-seeing buses’ sideways coliseum seating and floor-to-ceiling glass, Manhattan becomes the stage.
“The beautiful thing is if you’re driving past the Chrysler Building, which is part of the show, you can look up and you have a view,” said Richard Humphrey, co-CEO/CCO of The Ride, LLC.
Humphrey has a background in entertainment, with a long resume that includes performing, directing and producing. He was recruited to The Ride to revamp the show.
“We’re basically doing a Broadway show with 49 seats. It’s challenging, because I have technicians. I have drivers. I have customer care. I have office support, and two hosts that seven performers for every show,” Humphrey said.
Buses modified for shows
The motorcoaches were built on a Prevost chassis, then modified by LDV Specialty Vehicles in Burlington, Wisconsin, which raised the roofs and added the glass walls.
“We’re the largest vehicle allowed on the streets in New York City,” he said. “We’re like over 43 feet long and just short of 14 feet tall. So we can’t go through the tunnels or anything and have to go across the bridges and all of that. It’s just a lot of challenges, but we’ve labored through them with trial and error,” he said.
Single ticket prices range from $69-79 but many attendees, especially international tourists, pick them up as part of a sightseeing pass. For the 75-minute theater show to work economically, tickets need to average $40-plus.
“We’re challenged in a way that typical bus companies aren’t because we’re a show,” Humphrey said. “We were Drama Desk-nominated for most unique theatrical, so we’re considered part of the Broadway community though you’re sitting in a traveling theater.”
Since its launch in 2011, The Ride has enjoyed favorable local and international media coverage.
“Fortunately, when we opened we were sort of a sweetheart for the city because we did get people around and we showcased the city. We were a press magnet, appearing on the Today show and Good Morning America,” Humphrey said.
He says the business has a good relationship with NYC & Co., the Big Apple’s tourism branch and its Department of Transportation, which provided a variety of stops for the bus where the audience watches scenes involving performers, from ballet dancers to rappers.
With the city planning to add congestion pricing for most vehicles entering Manhattan’s Central Business District, he’s not sure how those extra costs will impact the business model. The company’s fleet of high-end coaches are parked in Brooklyn in Red Hook so they can come to Manhattan over the Manhattan Bridge, which doesn’t have tolls. Initially, the buses were kept in New Jersey and had to pay to cross the George Washington Bridge.
Working with the city
“Tourism is a multi-billion-dollar business for the city. They’re going to have to work with local small business owners, because we can’t not have tourism. We’re just slowly recovering from COVID, for heaven’s sakes,” he said.
As the city has tried to encourage pedestrian and bike traffic in recent years, some areas like Time Square have been restricted to pedestrian traffic and bike lanes have been added to more roads. There are also dedicated lanes of 14th Street for bus traffic, not just city buses.
“It’s a give-and-take, and very fluid. We work really hard to stay on top of it and continue to work with our partners, so I’m very optimistic they’ll work with us,” Humphrey said.
Recruiting talent can be challenging, especially when it comes to drivers, because they must drive students and cross state lines to pick up corporate groups.
“Regular regulations and the licensing requirements on our drivers are more challenging,” Humphrey said. “They have to be more experienced. They need frequently to be willing to go back to school to get more advanced certifications.”
Latest production relies more on tech
The company expanded to offer another theater experience on wheels. The Ride, also written and directed by Humphrey, launched in 2015.
This version depends less on actors and more on technology. The 90-minute route introduces passengers to New York’s most iconic neighborhoods and landmarks, including Times Square, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall.
It tells the story of the past, present and future of New York City through an immersive multimedia sightseeing adventure using 40 interactive video screens. In this version, the streets are also the stage, as the adventure unfolds much like a gigantic IMAX film.
Humphrey said the company is looking to take its unique bus experience to more cities.