Have you been to Disney World in the past 10 years? Have you stayed within the park and therefore traveled on the “Disney Transportation” system? For a few of you, that would mean riding the Monorail only but for most, it involves spending time on a bus. And it probably involved a fair bit of waiting for buses to come, waiting to board buses, sitting on buses, and walking from buses. Overall, while the bus system does successfully move a massive quantity of people around the World, it does not do it efficiently.
How about the Monorail, you ask? I remember riding the Monorail when I was a kid (in the 70s) and it was awesome. Futuristic and smooth and just plain cool. It is 40 years later and it hasn’t changed since. The world (and the World) has gotten better around it. These days, the best that can be said about the Monorail is it elicits nostalgia. But for most people, they will see a worn coach that takes forever to load and unload and isn’t going where you want to go.
How about a personal car? Well, you can definitely get to and from parking lots quickly but then you have to pay for parking and everybody knows how far away you have to park – so far from the entrance that you need a special parking shuttle to get around the parking lot.
The upshot is, getting around Disney World is a complete pain in the ass. And when you are on vacation, you don’t want to spend time sitting around in a bus, a museum Monorail, or a traffic jam in a parking lot. Especially at Disney World where you have to book what time you are going to do a ride months in advance (that’s another post!), burning up precious time just trying to get to the theme park of the day is downright stupid.
So if you are like me (and I hope for the sake of your fellow vacation travelers that you are not), then you spend much of that time on the bus thinking about how it should be done better. And then when you get home, you kill a day studying maps and working out transit routes.
I’m convinced that the best way to get around Disney is a modern transit system. Like the Monorail but with modern EMU trainsets with very few coaches per trainset. In fact, I’d like to see them be monorail-based to continue Walt’s legacy but not necessarily use the same “gauge”. The platform could be custom designed for Disney. The new Disney Transit system would be powered all by electricity in the rails with battery backups onboard the EMU for making sure the trainset can reach a station even if the power goes out along the way. And unlike the archaic current Monorail, this new Disney Transit would link everything in Walt Disney World.
One of the major disadvantages to the bus system is arranging the frequency of buses to ensure maximum efficiency which can mean long waits. Switching to the new Disney Transit would require much more frequent stops. But by merging in some of the spaghetti into thicker strands, you’d get a fuller unit faster. That means fewer passengers waiting and while you’d be somewhat slowed down for every stop, the overall trip duration would be shorter due to the speed of rail over pavement.
Dwell time would need to be kept to a minimum for the system to work well. Again, the current Monorail has about the worst dwell time I have seen. In fact, it’s not fair to call it dwell so much as loading/unloading – more akin to an amusement ride than to transit. So new transit stations would be configured like airport trams with one side for loading and the other for unloading.
During my recent experience at WDW, I noticed that the place is overrun with wheelchairs, scooters, and everything you could imagine. On the one hand, I think it’s good that people who may have previously stayed at home are now able to get out and enjoy WDW. On the other hand, I wonder if the increased availability of mobility aids serves as an enabling device to those who are already failing to take care of themselves – i.e. why bother trying to improve the situation when the scooter is easier and even results in special perks. And then of course, there are the fakers – I saw a few people scooting around then getting up and walking just fine. (Okay, sure, maybe their stamina is limited or something but I’m sure there are some that taking advantage of something that should be better left for people who need it.) Whatever the reason, there are a lot of these things at WDW and they are likely to continue to be a common occurrence and therefore the transit solution would need to accommodate them. Disney could design special cars that enable mobility aids to load quickly through a special door and then they can shoot straight out the other side. And given that they are on a private track, you wouldn’t need to seat belt them in and all the other nonsense that happens on a bus. Also, with the buses, they need to deploy ramps and lower the bus but with transit, you’d have platforms at the height of the train’s floor deck so you’d just need to ensure the gap was covered – easy to do with a door opening, I’d imagine.
I’d love to say that the transit cars could be autonomous like an airport tram. But there are going to be some long runs that far exceed what you’d see at an airport and having staff on board will be important for safety and security. Also, the staff will need to make sure that the mobility devices load properly and safely. So I think this will need to be a staffed vehicle. Though, like a bus, you should be able to manage with just a single operator.
For safety reasons, and so that the stations do not require staff to operate and monitor, it’d probably be smart to implement the Platform Doors that are becoming more common on transit systems and that you typically see in airport tram systems. They are automatically operated by the existence of the train in the station so the train can pull in quickly without any monitoring from somebody on the platform. Granted, many stations in the world have been working fine for a 100 years without these. But given that Disney is risk averse and people get lawsuit happy there and that many people using the system will be unfamiliar with transit systems, probably wise to go full safety where possible. This would also help with closing the gap – when the doors are open, have a device deploy to fill the gap; the doors close, the device retracts.
All of the routes should be two-tracked to allow for cars to go in each direction. While you could make everything a loop, that doubles the time that it takes people to get to and from their destination. And again, the goal here is maximize throughput and minimize guest waiting. Also, the speed of the new transit system should be faster than the current Monorail. While the current Monorail can reach speeds of 55 MPH in theory, it can’t do that given the constrains of the current system. The new system should be able to sustain 60 MPH in the longer straight sections.
Okay, so that brings me to my route map. I’ve tried to link in all the theme parks with mainline express routes between them to allow for park-hopping and to get people quickly to other parts of the park. There are secondary routes which link in the resorts to the mainlines. I think the result is a relatively efficient system that requires at most a 2-seat ride to get from any resort to any theme park or other major destination within WDW. I have colored the lines with as different a set of colors as I could come up with – pretty similar to a lot of transit systems. Though instead of using colors to name the lines, I would imagine Disney would want to name the lines after Disney characters. Like the Mickey Line to go from Magic Kingdom to Hollywood Studios and the Simba Line to go to Animal Kingdom, the WALL-E Line to Epcot, etc.. Click on the image to view it full size.
Note that my map shows lines connecting dots and sweeping with curves but pays no attention to what is under the lines and in a few cases the dots may not be in the correct place. (I did my best with maps and satellite and past knowledge.) So I’m sure I’ve got train lines bombing through protected wildlife areas and swamps and a few other things where train lines can’t go. But those are not details I can work out from where I am. I’ll leave that to the Disney pros to figure out. I did try to keep the train lines on Disney property, though. Note that the line that goes down the West boundary of the park doesn’t have much action for a while. But I still think the line is useful and could be the place where Disney develops the “next” thing, whatever that is.
I did not include on my map the potential for additional lines in the Epcot and Magic Kingdom parking lots. Those lots are so big that you can legitimately park so far that you need a shuttle to get from the car to the gate. And right now, that shuttle at the Magic Kingdom brings you from your car to the Transportation and Ticket Center – not even to the gate. So instead, I’d like to see a transit line run through the parking lot so people could get to the train car easily and have that same car go all the way to the gate. It’s silly to force an intermodal connection for people that have parked. And when you think of it this way, the parking lot doesn’t need to be even as close as they are now – so the parking lots could be longer and more oriented to getting as many parking spots as close to a parking lot transit line as possible.
One disadvantage to my transit system here that is not an issue with the current bus system is that many people will be required to change lines. And while that will still mean a faster trip, I suspect many visitors to WDW would be lost when there isn’t a sign on a bus flashing the specific destination they want. In other words, people will need to pay attention more to what they are doing. But I think this could be easily solved by adding the transit directions to the Disney app. Punch in origin (or current location) and destination and the app will tell you what to do and when to do it. You get a buzz when you need to get off and change and an alert about what to change to. And of course, the app will be able to tell you the time to the next train because the track would be monitored.
What about the existing Monorail? Given that it is part of Walt’s original vision, I’d like to see it remain as an attraction. It could be modified to simply link Epcot and the Magic Kingdom or even just modified to be a tour around Epcot. But it should be retired from being the main form of transportation from the ticket center to the Magic Kingdom entrance and should no longer be the main way to get from the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, the Contemporary, and the Bay Lake Tower to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The new transit would take the place of it there.
Okay, that’s all I have time for, Disney. You can take it from here. And feel free to hire me if you like what you see and want more insight! Just remember, I’d need an unlimited budget for equipment and infrastructure.