Fast Pass Nation
Those with the means can buy their way out of more and more of life's inconveniences.
After a brief hiatus following her departure from the NewsBeast, Megan McArdle has taken her blogging talents to Bloomberg. In the interim, she and the hubby went to several of the Old Dominion’s theme parks and discovered the joys of FastPass.
Both Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion offered customers the opportunity to jump the queue, for a price ranging from $20 per person (at Water Country USA, the Busch Gardens water park) to $55 for the roller coasters. This is real money, of course, but it wasn’t prohibitive; it was less than we were spending on hotels and food, or for that matter, the theme park tickets.
If you love roller coasters and hate standing in line, a fast pass improves the theme park experience in ways that are hard to communicate. Most of the days that we were there, the lines on the favorite rides stretched to several hours. With a fast pass, it took us longer to walk between the roller coasters than to get on the rides and hurtle around the track. We easily doubled or tripled the number of rides we were able to take.
Pretty much a no-brainer if you’re there to ride the rides. And, yet, despite a rather low limit on the number of passes made available—presumably, to both ensure that the cut in line was worth it to those paying extra but not a huge burden on those without the passes—they never sold out. Megan guesses that it’s not a matter of price but guilt.
People just don’t like fast passes. It doesn’t feel right.
It didn’t even feel completely right to me, and I’m pretty close to homo economicus. I could tell myself that we weren’t actually hurting anyone in a meaningful way, and this was true — because so few queue-jumping passes were issued, the most anyone ever waited because of us was another minute. Arguably, our passes even helped to slightly lower the price of their tickets. But it felt bad to see everyone else patiently standing in line while we stepped onto the roller coaster with no wait. And a lot of the theme park attendants clearly didn’t approve of us.
The only theme parks I’ve gone to in the FastPass era were run by Disney and they have an interesting solution to the problem: You can’t buy a FastPass. They’re free! Anyone who wants to get a FastPass for a given ride has the same opportunity as everyone else to do so on a first come, first served basis. But you can only have one FastPass at a time, which means if you’re trying to skip the queue on a particularly popular attraction, you may have to come back three or four hours later and have to stand in line for other rides with the masses in the interim. If anything, it becomes a game of strategy.
Megan draws a larger point from the experience:
The real problem with fast passes isn’t that they allow a tiny number of people to jump the queue; it’s that those people start feeling that they should never have to mingle with the people who don’t have the passes. They act like entitled jerks who have the right to shove everyone else out of the way. No wonder the theme park attendants were suspicious of us.
Perhaps the reason they’re so obnoxious — and hers wasn’t the only family I saw pushing through the line while we waited to get to our entrance — is that more people are living a fast pass Life. Getting a special queue with special service isn’t a rare treat, something to indulge in on your first vacation in three years. It’s a permanent condition. Jump the security queue at the airport because you’re a frequent flyer. Walk straight into your rental car because you’re a Hertz#1 Club Gold member. Don’t like the kids your children are hanging around with? Push them into an elite program, or buy a house in a more exclusive school district. Join a gated community so the wrong people can’t even walk near you.
There’s certainly something to all that. On the one hand, it probably makes sense to offer customers who pay for better service better service. I don’t resent First Class passengers getting a bigger seat and “free” booze, even though I tend to fly economy. For that matter, I’m not sure there’s much of a problem with programs that give frequent fliers/renters a means around the annoyances of standing in line, which is compounded in their case by said frequency. But, yes, it can create a sense of entitlement.
In these parts, there’s an experiment going on with High Occupancy Toll lanes on some of the more crowded highways, allowing those willing to shell out more money a way around sitting in traffic. Said uncrowded lanes were constructed on the dime of the taxpayers—who had to endure even more traffic congestion during the years it took to construct them—and yet their use is restricted to those with the means and/or will to pay. There’s a good economic argument for this but it nonetheless strikes me as morally problematic.
On the other hand, I’m not sure how one gets around the “entitlement” problem. Rich people have always had ways to avoid the worst aspects of life but, as the divide between the rich and everyone else widens, they’re able to buy their way out of more of them.