Safety in the amusement industry is an ever moving target. There are many factors at play like rides pushing new thrilling boundaries, new technologies, and guests behavior. Last year parks like Universal and Six Flags started requiring locker rentals for lose articles on select rides and enforced it in their own ways. In the past it was up to the rider's discretion on how to store loose articles. These new policies were met with sarcasm and many people acted as though it was an annoyance, with little regard for the goal of these rules. Recently Cedar Fair has joined in with similar rules on select rides and this time the reaction was anger. Many people’s initial reaction was to call this policy a way to increase guest spending, and sarcastically called these attractions up charges because of the locker policy. But there is a hint of truth to this complaint.
Before I discuss the merits and pitfalls of these new safety rules I wanted to go back for perspective. First if theme parks weren't safe they couldn't remain fun. No one is going to say this would be more fun if it were less safe. However I was thinking about how parks have changed over my lifetime and many things I experienced in the past would not fly today, but at the time they didn't trigger a warning for me.
I am going to try and not sound like old man roller coaster here, but I recall a time before air gates that separated guests from the boarding area. The safety device at the time was a line painted on the floor and for the most part guest obeyed the line without instructions. This is a foreign concept today, but it's addition didn't really impact my experience as a guest. I also remember ride ops hyping up the train by running past it giving high fives while the train was moving. Again this would be crazy today, and ride ops have specific places they need to stand, with foot pedals or buttons to ensure they are following safety procedures. Again this just disappeared and didn't really affect me. Then there is Action Park, what would they have said about safety back in the day?, hold my beer. They were the actual case study in safety vs. fun, and was extremely popular almost a right of passage at the time. How was safety implemented at Action Park? Where to begin; attractions that were controlled by guests, designed by amateurs, and allowed people to bring in their own alcohol. This place would have made any insurance adjuster have a panic attack. And there is the real driving force, insurance premiums.
That brings us full circle back to lockers and loose articles. If state regulations don't keep up with safety or change as fast as needed the fear of liability is a driving force. And here is where the disconnect between the parks goal of safety and the guests perception of being squeezed for more money come together. The parks want to add safety procedures, but have not invested in making the experience safer, and at the same time added a cost for their guests. But the most important issue would be that it is doomed to fail. It actually encourages guests to not comply with a safety rules and could negativity impact other park rules. If a guest is trained to ignore or circumvent one rule it probably will trickle down to others.
The main issue here is implementation, in the future it might seem as crazy to ride a roller coaster with something in your pocket as it would be for ride ops running next to moving trains high fiving guests. The problem is everyone is in love with their phone, and lines are long. Ironically parks are making Wi-Fi free and have good coverage, but they are taking the device away to help you use it to pass the time. There is another motivation for guests to not comply that needs to be addressed by the park. There are many groups of kids/teens from; school groups, camps, and locals who are dropped off. Typically unaccompanied minors don't have credit cards, and the ride locker systems are increasingly cashless. I know responsible teen is an oxymoron, but if one was in line with me they might not have the ability to use the required lockers. They have probably also been instructed by their parents or supervision to keep their phone on them to check in. This is a major demographic of roller coaster riders. This policy of no loose articles is designed for my safety, but since it isn't implemented in away that guests like it will frustrate many and be ignored by others. This just leaves guest in danger of being struck by falling objects, as I know firsthand, and frustrated. So who wins? Right now the parks as they will get more revenue from locker rentals, and lower insurance premiums. How can we all win? Many suggestions are swirling around, and I have heard many good ideas. I won't weigh in on the best solution, but I know the only way parks are going to get guests on board is to share in the solution not just point us to a pay service they already have. Please find a way to work in changes in infrastructure with these new policies to make guest want to follow safety rules, and don't take away my phone while waiting, just while riding.