Making More Money, Part 6 — The Prayer Bus

Making More Money, Part 6: The Prayer Bus

The Prayer Bus is not really a new idea. A smattering of such buses already operate. But only in a few parts of the country, The concept may not be well-known to many motorcoach operators, just as the opportunities it presents may not be as apparent. I am not thinking of a bus full of proselytizers blaring announcements from an exterior PA system as they circumvent their target service area – until local police officers shut them down. I am speaking mostly of a motorcoach deployed in a conventional commuter/express duty cycle, where passengers (presumably of the same faith) could simply conduct and engage in their morning and evening services during the ride.

Unlike Europeans, only about five to 10 percent of whom attend religious services, 30 percent of Americans do. What is not known, of course, is how many would if they had more opportunity. Further, with certain religions (Judaism is a good example), these opportunities ebb and flow as a seasonable matter, since morning services are traditionally held soon after sunup, and evening services before sundown. Since the typical nine-to-five business world does little to accommodate such constraints, it is much easier for many individuals to attend services during the Summer months when the sun rises early and sets late. Otherwise, even among those individuals who prefer to worship at services rather than privately, there may be problems: Some religions demand groups to legitimize the service, as for example, Jews cannot officially pray unless a “minion” (a minimum of 10 people) is present.

Many who might wish to do so daily are able to engage in this activity only on weekends simply because the demands of their conventional workday schedules tend to squeeze out so many other things. So like many of the other modes in this series of installments, The Prayer Bus has a potential market largely because the demand for religious activity coincides with the hours during which most individuals commute. Particularly as many commuters do not work near their places of worship, there may be some demand for “base period” services, such as noon-time mass, where the coach might not even have to move, but simply be available as the worshipers’ “second church.”

Prayer and Values

We have all heard the argument: More people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason. Even if so, restricting this fact to logic, it is certainly not because of the degree to which individuals pray. It is because of how they act. While most traditional religions contain plenty of “an-eye-for-an-eye” stuff, and are full of violent and even sexual imagery, the essence of most religions is that they express values – almost exclusively wholesome values that may be more important for people living in our era than ever before. I myself am not a particularly religious person when it comes to attending services – although some of this has to do with the things that have increasingly crowded so many things I would prefer to do out of my life. But if there is anything our society needs, it is values. So if one get such things from practicing one’s religion, I am in favor of it. The Prayer Bus simply provides another means of access to it.

I would not like to see a Santeria or Voodoo Bus, or facilitate the aggregation of some Satanic cult whose aim is to spread harm and mayhem. But such groups almost always meet in some sanctuary of secrecy. So I doubt a commuter/express bus would ever transport a load of such worshipers – even though I can envision a charter bus hosting one, where the driver is part of the cult. On the other hand, there are an increasing number of positive and peaceful “New Age” religious movements, often involving only small congregations. Such groups may not be able to afford any permanent headquarters, and thus, their ability to come together at regular (or even irregular) intervals, if only once a week, provides an interesting opportunity for the charter and tour sectors of our industry. Regardless, I am confident that the idea of The Prayer Bus will not sprout an outbreak of mobile covens.

Demographics and Density  

I envision The Prayer Bus as both an urban phenomenon, and one restricted to only certain areas of the country. For one, as a commuter/express phenomenon, one must find enough individuals of the same religion to fill the Coach. In areas of concentrated and highly-religious worshipers – Brooklyn and Salt Lake City come most easily to mind – commuting during a morning and/or evening service could be an extremely enriching experience, and another case where the coach becomes an end in itself rather than a means. In contrast, there may be charter and tour sector opportunities for mobile churches in poor, rural areas, where no transit services exist, many residents do not own cars, and where members of a congregation may reside both far apart and far from any house of worship that could accommodate them – even if they could afford one.

Since a motorcoach could circulate and pick up/drop off worshipers at decentralized locations, it might make worshiping possible where there is no other alternative. This latter opportunity may be more of a regional phenomenon, and I can envision its attractiveness in Southern, Southwest and Midwest states perhaps more than I can in the move-heavily-populated Northeast Corridor or on the West Coast. But we seem to accept the constraints to worshiping that a permanent building presents as a given, whereas the mobility of The Prayer Bus as a moving temple not only circumvents such constraints, but opens up a vast array of opportunities that no fixed facility can offer whatsoever. 

I have occasionally observed religious individuals engaged in prayer on trains and airplanes. But these worshipers were usually forced to travel during certain times of importance to their religions (i.e., the Sabbath or religious holidays), and praying on the train or plane was the best they could do. I strongly suspect such individuals would much prefer to worship in the presence of fellow-worshipers. Yet given the flexibility in routing that a bus or coach has, configuring a route to facilitate the commute of a bus- or coach-full of worshipers would be a snap: The number and variety of pickup and drop-off points would be not much different than those for any other commuter/express run – with the exception that, with a much smaller density of riders to draw upon, the route alignments would likely be somewhat less efficient. But again, this should matter little (unless it is taken to the extreme) to a commuter with such interests, since The Prayer Bus actually turns motorcoach travel from a means to an end.

Finally, it is hardly a secret that the most religious people are often the least affluent, and make up a far larger percentage of commuter/express riders than many other segments of its ridership. And many of these individuals are often older – and thus, not only more religious, but more prone to worship. Given the coinciding of these two demographics, some market exists for this unusual mode, even if only a handful of Prayer Buses in a few urban areas. Interestingly, these same demographics – elderly riders already represent 60 percent of all motorcoach riders—mirror those of the motorcoach industry as a whole, and such riders represent even a higher percentage of tour and charter passengers.

Comfort and Accommodations

If  the reader of these installments learns nothing else about motorcoach travel, he or she will certainly become more aware of its extraordinary flexibility. For Christians and those following other religions who kneel during parts of their services, simple accommodations (like a thick bath mat) could instantly turn certain models of a motorcoach’s footrests into a pew. And with the compartmentalized seating systems now available in coaches, such a riding position would not be nearly as unsafe as it might otherwise be – although, in fairness, compartmentalized seating systems are not designed for the passengers to be riding in such positions. Further, to the degree existing footrests are inadequate as a basis – the rearward tilt of the seatbacks would likely make it impossible to kneel on them – it should not take a marginally-skilled craftsman much time to construct an extension to such footrests that would indeed accommodate them. In other words, with simple changes, including stowed or carry-on appendages, motorcoaches could actually contain removable pews. Otherwise, conventional positioning in existing seating configurations certainly do not prevent any riders from bowing – and I suspect that given the constraints, this practice would be considered an acceptable substitute for kneeling among most worshipers making such an effort to even do so.

Other religious practices – like kneeling and bowing in a prone position – would create different challenges, because such positioning could only occur in the aisles, and as a consequence, would raise safety issues. Minor adjustments could be make by such worshipers: They could kneel to the rear in their reclined seats, and the reclining position of the seats would provide room for the bowing. Since the orientation of the commute would not allow the worshipers to face East most of the time anyway, I fail to see why this modification would be unacceptable.

Finally, most of the artifacts that are typically present in any religion’s house of worship – crosses, Torahs, etc. – could simply be carried on board, and fixtures to accommodate them would be almost effortless to construct and install as a motorcoach conversion matter.

Prayers and Dreams

One fascinating and promising aspect of The Prayer Bus (again, only of the commuter/express variety) would be that one might not always be filled with worshipers. And to the degree most of these riders would not be offended, I doubt those worshiping would mind other passengers accompanying and accommodating them. Were this to happen, it would comprise a sorely needed if not invaluable phenomenon: Members of one religion actually having a chance to observe those following a fellow religion worship. As critical as I am and have been for a long time about many things American, I have often bragged to my friends world-wide that the one thing America has that virtually none other genuinely enjoys is the freedom of religion.

Other than reading about them, or getting often-biased news from slanted mainstream new media, most of us have few chances to experience individuals of a somewhat minority religion in this country engaging in the rituals about which we are, shamefully, the most ignorant. Similarly, these individuals have few chances to learn about the essence of what most Christians and Jews believe, and how we worship. For example, and a salient illustration, how many non-Jewish readers know that, during the traditional Passover Service, a special prayer is recited in memory of the Egyptians killed in the Eighth Plague – the slaying of the first born. This is because Jews are cognizant that Pharaoh, not the Egyptian people at large, was solely responsible for the enslavement of the Jews 3000 years ago, while tens of thousands of Egyptians were killed in the effort to free their leader’s captives. If ignorance is the basis of bias, which most enlightened individuals concede it is, than The Prayer Bus offers an antidote, if only in its own small way.

The point is, that one curious side-benefit of The Prayer Bus could be opportunities to develop, or at least improve upon, our sense of religious tolerance. But the achievement of tolerance passes through the doorway of understanding. Experiencing a key element of one another’s culture – prayer — is a giant step toward reaching such understanding.

Benefits and Baby Steps

I think the growth of The Prayer Bus will be slow, and ultimately limited. And I think only a handful of companies in a few cities or the countryside will find the demographics and other conditions conducive to deploying and profiting from a few of them. But our society is racing backwards in tolerance and values. So even if The Prayer Bus is a mere baby step in the right direction, it is worth some consideration. The fact that, for the right operator, a handful of such buses might mean the difference between his or her economic demise versus survival, is also worthy of our consideration.

In contrast, I see the implementation of this mode fraught with challenges – security being only one of them. But while these challenges may be 100 times more difficult to address than those of, say, The Lecture Bus, and its market certainly smaller and more regionally constrained, The Prayer Bus offers the type of opportunities we rarely find. If nothing else, it would be refreshing to actually read or hear about something this positive in the News. Just because something like The Prayer Bus does not initiate a craze like the Charleston, does not mean it cannot make a contribution. Frankly, the Charleston involved a lot of drinkers, and contributed little if anything to the art of Dance. But in the era before radio, it created tens of thousands of jobs for musicians.

For those of us, like myself, critical to some degree of what we are, yet desperately trying to make things better, I would be willing to try almost anything with even a small hope of doing so, even on a tiny scale. With even a moderate proliferation of The Prayer Bus, and particularly a bit more diversity in its formats, perhaps we will find a few successful baby steps in the right direction drifting our way.