Theme Park Musing #10 – Queue Length

Hello all! I know it’s been nearly (or maybe over a year) since I last posted here…but I’m in grad school these days and have found myself, quite literally, without any free time for most of the last year. I do have articles I’m planning to write…but for now here’s just a little something I was thinking about over on the side-blog that I decided to post here as well.

See, I have a theory that the length of a queue is heavily, if not entirely, influenced by the length of the externally visible portion of the queue : how long that portion is and proportionally how full it is. 

That is that humans will continue to fill a queue no matter how long the interior portion is, no matter how long the actual wait time is, as long as the exterior portion is empty. Once the exterior portion begins to fill the amount of guests that enter begins to slow roughly proportionally to the percent filled until around 50-60% at which point the line will likely stop growing as long as there are no swells in the local attendance of the area (a show lets out for instance, or a bunch of people just entered the park). 

When there is a swell the line will quickly grow past its entrance and overflow, at which point the number of new guests entering will quickly cease (especially if crowd control doesn’t extend the line). People will go elsewhere and there will actually be a drop in attendance…soon leaving the exterior portion of the line close to empty, which will eventually fill and again grow to around 50-60%. 

I think there’s probably exceptions to this, particular for new rides, rides where the THRC just cannot come close to matching the demand, and I’m sure having posted wait times diminishes the effect somewhat, though I doubt completely. I think this effect would largely hold true regardless of actual wait time, or line length. And obviously this only applies when there is enough demand to generate a line and the THRC. 

This is based on a lifetime of observation of queues at theme parks….and in particularly the observation of some of the older rides at Disneyland…with entirely outdoor queues seeming to follow the same behavior as the exterior sections of newer rides. Also in seeing the difference in wait times between meet and greets that are just on the side of the street (with visible lines) vs meet and greets with dedicated indoor (hidden) lines.

Now the implication of this would be….interesting: that the best way to shorten the waits of attractions might be to actually shorten the physical length of lines. And to make sure that there is a long piece of queue visible near the entrance that will always appear quite full. And, somewhat counterintuitively, the more queue you build, the more people will enter it.

As counterintuitive as this is, it actually meshes really well with what we know about how cars fill streets and highways (building more lanes increases traffic instead of lowering it). And people are the ones driving the cars after all…

This also has implications for virtual queues and fastpass type systems. They will tend to fill up to capacity as fast as attendance and the technology allows, because essentially they are of infinite length/bandwith. They are psychologically empty lines with no visual cues to fullness. So in a park that has rides that are already overwhelmed with demand, the lines will just become longer. Though, if there are attractions that are underperforming – a virtual queue might be a way to bump attendance.

Now if only there were a way to actually test this. I’d LOVE to see the results. Is there a PHD anywhere I can apply for?