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 10 percent
of the population or fewer 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
either during the winter months when the
sun rises late and sets early. Otherwise, even
among those individuals who prefer to worship
at services rather than privately there
may be problems. Some religions demand
it to some degree, 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. 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. If one gets
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. Such groups almost always meet in
some sanctuary of secrecy. 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 to 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. 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. 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 pick-up
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. 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 many 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. 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. 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

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.
To the degree most of this 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 worldwide 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
news media, most of us have few
chances to experience individuals of other
religions 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 3,000 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. 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. 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. However,
our society is racing backwards in tolerance
and values. 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. 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. However,
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.

Publications: National Bus Trader.