Single Rider Lines

I spoke a bit about single rider lines in a comment thread over at Coaster Guy's blog. This wasn't an issue I've brought up very often in the past, but I think it needs to be discussed.

Why, you ask? Well, here's my reasoning: with the exception of Disney (who does not own any of my particularly favorite theme parks), single rider lines are not often utilized. In high-traffic parks with large coasters that draw people like myself, you can find a single rider line only once in a blue moon. Sometimes you'll see one at an older coaster, or maybe at a random newer coaster once in a while. But the parks don't seem to make them a priority.

And I'm having an issue with that.

First, let me identify what single rider lines actually are, and what they actually do. When people are visiting a park by themselves (because they're hopeless roller coaster addicts, haha), or if a group of people choose to ride individually, these people can enter a ride through the exit and experience a much shorter wait than they would in the general queue. They wait for a single space to be available (you know, during those times when you've got a row of four seats and only three people in a group, so there's one extra seat available), and are able to get on the ride by filling in the extra seat. This system is actually useful to all people involved, but because some people feel that shorter wait times for others are "unfair," many parks have cut back on the single rider lines.

I recently visited Six Flags Discovery Kingdom for a quick run on some of my favorite coasters there. Earlier this summer, they utilized single rider lines (especially for Superman: Ultimate Flight, where park owners feared capacity issues). I loved it -- as a person visiting my myself, these lines offered me a chance to hop from ride to ride, have a good time, get my adrenaline fill, and leave the park within a few hours. That one experience made me a loyal Six Flags fan, and I couldn't wait to return.

On my recent visit, however, the park owners had decided to do away with single rider lines. Because school is now back in session, the park is only open on weekends, and it seems as though every single weekend is jam-packed full of people (and I can imagine it will only get worse when Fright Fest starts). So this meant that I either had to leave the park, or consign myself to hours of waiting for only a few rides. And I had an issue with that.

Some of you are probably thinking that my thought process is rather entitled, and that I should take a few steps back. Why, you may ask, should I have the privilege of not waiting in line when everyone else has to? Why shouldn't I have to get in line, like everybody else?

Good questions -- and while I don't think there are simple, black and white answers to that, I'll share with you my thoughts. To me, single rider lines are very important, for a few reasons.

First, single rider lines help everybody. Believe it or not, having a single rider line keeps the wait shorter for everyone, even those in the stand-by line. When every seat in a car is full, customers are shuffled through the queue area and the ride itself much faster than if every car has empty seats. Think about it this way -- if only one person got to ride per car, how long do you think it would take to get a whole queue of people on the ride? When I go through the single rider entrance, and can be placed in a seat that would have otherwise been empty, I will not be taking up an entire row later on (again, with an empty seat beside me) when someone else might have been able to use it. Single rider lines save time for everyone.

But beyond this, I have personal feelings about single rider lines. I know that some people question whether or not single rider lines are fair, and believe that we should all wait in the same line, regardless of how many are in our party. That's fine -- I respect that opinion. However, I will venture to say that when I choose to attend a theme park by myself, my experience (and my expectations) is vastly different than people who arrive in large groups. When I go by myself, my expectation is that I'll ride as many thrill rides as I can in a given time, and then leave. With groups, however, the expectation is a bit different.

When families or groups of friends attend a theme park together, they expect to move a bit more slowly. They'll be riding the rides, of course, but they'll also probably be seeing the shows. They'll be sitting down to dine together. They might take pictures with characters, or stop for a photo in a scenic area. And while they're waiting in those long lines, they'll be talking, laughing, and visiting together.

Now don't get me wrong -- being a single rider has given me the opportunity to meet lots of great people (on my last visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain, my two very long waits for Tatsu both resulted in some extremely wonderful conversations with people I didn't even know). But that is not why I am there. That is not why I have purchased a season pass to the park. I bought a season pass, and am there by myself, solely so that I can experience roller coasters -- quickly, and in large amounts.

When I visit theme parks with groups of people, I don't usually mind waiting in the long lines. It's part of the experience. But when you're there on your own, with a very specific agenda in mind, it becomes tedious.

And it's even more tedious when you take into account the fact that, in my experience, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom had single rider lines! They just chose to eliminate the entire system. And when I asked why, I was told that it was because other people couldn't behave themselves.

Yes, you read that correctly -- the single rider lines were eliminated because too many people were "abusing" the system. They'd get in the single rider line as groups, I was told. Or, one person would ride as a single rider and then rush to get in line with his or her group, who was now halfway through the queue. For the sake of fairness, I was told, the entire system had to be eliminated.

Not even taking into account the fact that the system was eliminated at the expense of people like me (who were, of course, not abusing the system), there are multiple issues that I have with this. First of all, I don't see a problem with groups of people using the single rider line. Part of the deal is that you will be split up, and will likely take multiple cars. If you don't mind your group being split up so that you can get on faster, then so what? Have at it. (Disney already allows this kind of behavior, and haven't had any issues with it.) Secondly, the latter scenario wouldn't be an issue if only the parks would enforce the "no line cutting" policy, which includes saving a place for someone else in line. This is supposedly grounds for being ejected from the park, but I've never seen it enforced (though I see people saving spots for others multiple times each time I visit a park).

But even if people have an issue with large groups using the single rider line, isn't there a way to deal with that without having to toss the system altogether?

I am one who believes that single rider lines should be available at all rides as well, not only a select few. As I said, it helps everyone out, and it also makes those of us who make a habit of visiting the parks by ourselves feel like we and our situations are valued.

National Roller Coaster Day

I just found out (courtesy of The Coaster Guy) that August 16 is National Coaster Day. This is a big deal for me, for not only am I a coaster enthusiast, but I happen to celebrate my birthday on August 16. This means, of course, that future birthday celebrations just might have to include at least one roller coaster, if for no other reason than to be as spirited a coaster junkie as I can.

August 16, which I have always only associated with my birthday, Madonna's birthday, and the day that Elvis died, has apparently also been National Roller Coaster day since the early 1980's (which is the exact time I happened to have been born). How did I not know about this until now?

The main thing to keep in mind about this day is that it's not just some unknown holiday for adrenaline junkies to come together and celebrate amongst ourselves. There are certain places that actually give free roller coasters rides (or celebrated the day in some other way) around the world. Although I'm still looking into it, what I know for certain is that Buffalo Bill's Resort and Casino is one venue that offers free rides on this day.

If you've ever driven the lonely expanse of highway in between Las Vegas and Los Angeles (and I have -- many, many times), then you're probably familiar with Buffalo Bill's. It's also commonly referred to in the vernacular as "State Line," and is that last pit stop before the final 40-or-so minutes into Vegas (or final 3 1/2 hours into LA). It's home to a roller coaster called Desperado, which I haven't had the pleasure of riding since 2003, despite the fact that I've been through the area many times since then.

While we're on the subject, Desperado is actually a pretty good roller coaster to experience, if you haven't before. Back in 1996, it was the tallest roller coaster in the world, with an initial drop of 225 feet. Since then, of course, it's been dethroned by such legends as Goliath (255 foot drop, at Six Flags Magic Mountain), Millennium Force (300 foot drop, at Cedar Point), and Kingda Ka (currently the reigning champion with a 418 foot drop, at Six Flags Great Adventure). But still -- how could you justify turning down a free ride on this classic (especially when it's your birthday)?

The thing is, though, I'd like to get more theme parks on board with National Roller Coaster Day. I think the biggest parks should be aware of it (including all of the Six Flags parks), so that they can help celebrate in some way. After all, we coaster enthusiasts are their primary customer, and we dig holidays like National Roller Coaster Day.

We'll see what happens when August 16, 2013 rolls around. Hopefully many of us can be in contact with the parks before then.