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Disney World making changes to buses, monorails and roadways to meet growth

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Walt Disney World is making a number of small but important changes to the way they transport guests around their property. Some changes have been recently completed and some will take a few years to implement. It’s all in the name of growth, efficiency, guest satisfaction and safety.

Samuel Lau is the vice president of Walt Disney World Transportation. He’s been with Disney for a couple of years, but he’s been in the transportation business for more than 20, most recently for the city of San Francisco and San Jose, Calif. He also has a planning and engineering background, which comes in handy when planning all the different transportation options at Disney World.

“Here (Disney World) it’s about guest experience, people going on vacation,” said Sam, “It’s a very different atmosphere and mindset … expectation is high.” Sam added that on average, up to half of all the guests on Disney property use their transportation system. “Even some of the folks who drive here will leave their car and take the monorail, buses and boats,” added Sam.

Disney’s bus system transports the most guests each day, with the monorail and boats competing for second and third. No immediate changes are planned for the boat system, so let’s take a look at the buses, monorails and roadways.

Buses

Walt Disney World’s bus system is larger than the city of Orlando’s Lynx system. Disney has 319 buses in their fleet (Lynx has about 280). Each night Disney World buses transport the equivalent of stadiums full of people out of the parks and back to their hotels. If you’ve ever driven down Buena Vista Drive at night, you were most likely surrounded by Disney buses.

With New Fantasyland opening soon and the newly opened Art of Animation Resort, Disney is planning for growth. They recently added 28 new buses to their fleet, and this past spring they tested a 60-foot bus with two sections called an articulated bus, which of course helps them transport even more guests at a time. Sam said those tests went well and they are planning on purchasing a few articulated buses to try out.

But the larger buses of course have larger space needs. Which brings us to another change that is coming. Sam said they’re planning on adding a third bus loop at the Magic Kingdom. The two current bus loops aren’t meeting the demand and growth Disney is expecting. Each loop offers stops to the same Disney resorts, so if the line for a particular resort gets too long, the guests can line up for their resort at the second loop, and the third once it’s built south of the current loops. Sam said the third loop will take about a year to build and will better accommodate the larger articulated buses.

Disney is also planning on installing cameras on their bus fleet. But Sam said this is more of a road safety issue than guest security. “We want to know what happened if a bus gets into an accident or there’s some incident that happens,” said Sam. “The cameras allow us to see exactly what is going on around the bus.” The cameras will be looking at the outside of the bus and show what the driver sees, rather than being pointed at the guests on the inside of the bus. “The only camera that we have inside the bus is facing the driver compartment and the front door.”

Sam said they’ve looked into electric and hybrid buses but haven’t found any that are applicable for them right now. “Those types of buses work better in an urban environment with stop and go traffic,” said Sam. “But most buses are clean diesel with the exhaust in the roof and they dissipate the exhaust so it’s a lot cleaner.”

Monorails

To help with guest efficiency, as well as safety, Disney is planning on implementing a new monorail train control system which will monitor and control the monorails. “The system will allow us to monitor and control train movements in real time,” said Sam. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean there will no longer be monorail drivers. “The role might change,” said Sam. “Instead of actively driving the trains, they still have to enable movement and make spiels to guests. In no way is the pilot position going away.”

Because the new system will be computer controlled, it will reduce the wait times for guests. “The system will know that a train is late or needs to speed up, versus how it’s done now with humans,” added Sam. “From a safety perspective it will allow us to protect work zones. It will also reduce system down time. Right now when a train switches from one beam to another, we stop all train movement on the beam, but in the future the system would keep running and open up a gap to allow one train to switch from one side to another and do that more efficiently. Right now everything just stops and the guests see that and feel that.

“This is bringing us to state-of-the-art. Most train systems in the world are using these types of control systems,” added Sam. “It will give us a lot more data and information about how we’re operating and how we can operate more efficiently.”

But even when this new system is in place in about two and a half years, guests probably won’t be allowed to ride in the cabin with the monorail pilots like they used to. “The driver is focused on what he or she needs to do in terms of safe operation, so we won’t be bringing that back,” said Sam.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Disney later followed-up to clarify that there are no plans to allow guests in the cabins at this time.)

A recent change to the monorail service is the reduction of hours during Extra Magic Hours nights at the Magic Kingdom. This was done to allow more time for maintenance of the monorail trains and beam. To make up for the earlier stopping times, they’ve added more busses late at night. They’ve also reduced the number of monorail trains running mid-day because of less guest use. This allows more time for maintenance, which helps keep downtime to a minimum.

Roadways

In addition to the monorail and bus changes, Disney has also made some changes to their roadways. A new turn lane was added extended at the Magic Kingdom to allow more busses to stack, which prevents a bottleneck with other vehicles and allows the buses to get to the park quicker. A new lane was also added to Buena Vista Drive near Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (Sam squashed rumors of Hollywood Studios’ Buena Vista Road entrance closing.) Another new turn lane is planned for Osceola Parkway and Serbeth Road near Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Sam summed up the changes: “All these different strategies help us continue to make sure the guest experience is the best it could be.”

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11 comments

OOTL AndyGuinigundo September 6, 2012 - 12:01 pm

I wish WDW had the compressed propane trams (the ones that transport from parking lot to entrances). They use them at Disneyland in California and they are ultra-quiet and have clean exhaust – at least not diesel smelling.

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Joe S September 6, 2012 - 2:49 pm

Disney should focus much less on buses and more on expanding the monorail system. Going to Disney is a unique experience and there is nothing unique about being in a crowded noisy bus that has to fight with car traffic along the way. Walt saw the benefit of trains (traditional or monorail) that was different from normal city planners. Having someone else who thinks like a normal city planner takes away from the unique qualities of Disney. The dream continues to fade.

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Russell September 6, 2012 - 10:12 pm

@Joe S only problem with expanding the monorail system is that each mile of track costs several million dollars. At the moment, it’s more economical to focus on improving transportation systems already in place instead of subjecting the entire resort property to construction. In the future, I would definitely love to see resort-wide monorails…but right now, it’s just not practical. The dream only fades if you let it, my friend.

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Wil B September 7, 2012 - 8:04 am

Russell, where I agree with you on improving the existing systems already in place, I feel it would be prudent to begin expansion of the monorail system. Each year the expansion is delayed the cost will continue to rise. We see that daily in cities and states across the nation when it is reported that roadway expansion cost increase, so the same principle applies. I feel it should be a balancing act and focus should begin to shift toward monorail expansion.

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Len September 7, 2012 - 11:11 am

Expanding the current monorail system would be transportation suicide for WDW. Monorails have one big inherant flaw in that they are not flexible like a bus system. If a monorial train breaks down it basically shuts down the entire line until it is recovered and moved off of the line. Also to support such a large widespread area like WDW would be tough. Another main monorail station would have to be built (most likely @ Epcot) just to accomodate DHS & AK. So if you wanted to go from the Poly to AK then you would need to make 2 transfers. By bus this trip take about 30 minutes when incorporating the wiat time, but a monorail trip with 2 transfers and waiting times could easily be in excess of an hour.

If Disney would look to a more modular light rail system then there could be a possiblility.

For now bussing is the best and most versatile system. The monorail was a great transportation option until outside of the Seven Seas Lagoon.

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Joe S September 7, 2012 - 3:33 pm

Granted the monorail cannot go everyplace the buses travel, however, a station or two can be established in various locations, near EPCOT would be the logical choice, to take travelers to the four main parks and downtown Disney. The EPCOT line is under-utilized as it is. So, that could somehow be taken into consideration. Buses could still be used to move to and from the hotels, etc. If done correctly, it may result in one more loop. Plus, it’s a great way to see the property. As the Disney development continues to grow, street traffic and bus traffic will become more and more unbearable. Plus, riding in a bus is such a boring way to see Disney.

Also, I don’t believe the times would be much slower with the proper number of monorail cars. Their reliability is extremely high, there’s no traffic concerns and the ride provides a great way to see the parks. Walt realized that when he built it.

Costs may be higher, but investing in efficient infrastructure vs. patching up problems with short-term solutions is often what cities fail to do and it costs more in the long run and continues the status quo. Walt was able to see great new ways to move people around. Just adding more buses and expanding roadways is a step backward toward the traditional failed methods.

Light rail is another possible solution. Granted, not as exciting as monorails, but it should be done before more of the patchwork development is planned on the property.

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Rick E. September 9, 2012 - 3:53 am

the bus system is about the only way to go as of today. What needs to be done, is create a “disney bus only ” lane and or separate back lot road way system designed for the busses to be removed from the regular day to day traffic. Why should a bus be sitting in bumper to bumper traffic at park closing times. Separate exit and entrances for the buses would help even if they must merge back into regular traffic further down the road

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Scolling September 12, 2012 - 9:25 am

I think that the monrail system could be expanded if they really wanted to. I see Downtwon Disney as the next place to logically put another maint station with the monorail possible serving, the DTD resort area and then access to DHS. From there you expand it out slowly over a 10 year period by adding a 3rd station and connecting them all together. This is how Walt wanted it, high capacity, efficent transportation like people movers and monrails. I don’t remember anything about smelly diesel buses.

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Jennifer September 13, 2012 - 11:05 am

I do not think that the accordion style buses would be a smart move to make. I remember Disney having these style buses years ago and do not know the reason they were taken out of service. But a recent article from the Chicago tribune shows that even in mess that is the Chicago Rush Hour they took them off and told people to have longer wait times due to the safety issues these style of buses presents.

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Allan November 27, 2012 - 3:36 pm

I’m with also expanding the monorails .. the only reason I do not stay at AK is because it takes for ever to get around from there. Also around the Art of Ani.. area.

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Bill April 4, 2013 - 10:56 am

The monorail system is the future and exciting, busses are old and for people with no imagination.

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