Making More Money: The Valet/Errand Bus
It is a common experience to waste part of one’s evening, or several, or part of a weekend, just getting a bunch of boring yet necessary errands done. Imagine how convenient it would for a bus commuter to get them done on the way to and from work! This is the idea behind The Valet/Errand Bus. The Valet/Errant Bus would not only provide some services on-board, but would also make a single stop along the way – at a small mall or shopping center – to allow the passengers to meet other needs, since only a handful could be accommodated on board. One would not need to ride this bus every day, or every combination of morning or afternoon runs. Instead, one could simply ride it on those days one needs its services.
Like the other variations in this series of installments, The Valet/Errand Bus has interesting potential in computer/express operations where headways are close together. This is because not every commuter will want to spent 15 to 20 minutes at the additional stop every single day. So if the headways of a particular commuter/express route operate only a few minutes apart, and perhaps every fifth run or so would include the Errand stop, the commuter could ride that particular run only on those days he or she needs to. In fact, the service would make sense starting with only a single run including this extra stop, and its extra on-board services.
If the single additional stop is sufficiently multi-purpose and efficient, and services can be organized to quickly focus on the most common needs of each bus’ passengers, The Valet/Errand Bus definitely has its place in every medium and large city – with the possible exception of a few extremely dense cities where concentrated services are already available, and the passenger could simply get his or her needs met while walking between the morning alight and work destination, or during the afternoon walk from work to the bus stop –although they would obviously have to do a lot of carrying. But even with that approach, the passenger would likely have to take a somewhat indirect path to his or her bus stop – wasting time and effort in the process. In contrast, the services available on The Valet/Errand bus and at its single multi-purpose stop would not require any indirect paths to or from the bus stop.
Origins and Models
This particular mode is modeled on the hundreds of thousands of small, suburban strip malls consolidated at selected stops on the edge of the city throughout the country, and which, for obvious reasons, contain a mix of stores and facilities to quickly meet the lion’s share of the most common shopping and service needs of a typical automobile commuter: One-stop shopping. A typical, or perhaps ideal mix of stores might include a pharmacy, a computer software/hardware shop, a hardware store, a commercial stationary store, a dry cleaners, a moderately-sized grocery store (with ultra-express lines for bus passengers), a handful of low- and medium-end take-out-food restaurants, a bank, a liquor store, a flower shop, and a tavern. This stop would provide an alternative to both the bus commuter and the stores served, as they would receive a new market.
In addition to the one-stop shopping, a handful of services could also be provided on board. For example, one seat bench could be converted into a temporary shoe-shine booth: Passengers could either remove the shoes they’re wearing, or carry on a pair or two in a bag. Perhaps on some sort of rotating schedule, an array of services could be arranged for, including filling out credit card and other applications, or even on-line services arranged (for those commuters not literate enough to handle the transactions by themselves) by an on-board “geek” who processes them for the passenger on the geek’s computer. And even a breakfast or PM snack cart could be wheeled down the aisle –generating an additional source of revenue, just as drinks could be served (poured from tiny bottles into plastic cups, for safety-related reasons), generating even greater profits. (the extra profits would easily pay for the clean-up, especially since The Valet/Errand Bus would only operate a single AM or PM run each day, with plenty of time for cleaning and re-stocking in between.) After all, if AMTRAK and airplanes are allowed to provide such amenities, and “drinking buses” are allowed in the tour and charter sectors in many states, what constraint could possibly exclude them from a commuter/express Valet/Errand Bus? Perhaps, a few passengers could even receive a massage, which would not even require another seat, but rather, a few cushioned “fixtures” to accommodate the revised body positions needed, and to support the masseuse. (I would just draw the line at “happy endings.”)
Regardless, all these on-board vendors would likely not only pay a fare, but a higher one than that of a normal passengers, since they would be earning money during the trip. Further, the fare for riding The Valet/Express Bus could also, and reasonably, be increased, given the increased value that would accrue to its passengers. Otherwise, without such services and the additional stop, the commuter would have to complete these same errands, often unconsolidated, and certainly far less efficiently, at some other time. In contrast, The Valet/Errand Bus commuter could maintain almost the same shopping flexibility as an automobile commuter (during or apart from his or her commute) in a fraction of the time, often at a discount (stores at the malls would likely grant discounts to the riders) and with far less stress. Also, between the overhead package racks and a motorcoach’s enormous undercarriage luggage compartments, quite a range of objects could be transported; presumably use of the luggage bays would be minimized such that the trip-length would not become significantly longer for unloading things at specific passengers’ PM destinations.
Just as rest stops for charter and tour services are notified ahead of time to accommodate a “crush” of customers in a short span of time, regular service to these stop-and-shop centers could be organized to accommodate the sudden (but reliable) influx of passengers’ needs in a matter of minutes, and in the process, eliminate the otherwise nuisance of waiting in line – compared to the normal shopping experience whereby American corporations do everything in their power to eliminate live staff and customer service at the inconvenience and expense of the customer. Such would not be the case for services rendered for The Valet/Errand Bus, because “customer service” – practically the mantra of motorcoach service – would be required for, if not happily accepted by, a merchant suddenly flooded with a volume of new and regular customers.
Headways and Choices
Tight headways are almost essential for this mode’s success, since not every passenger would likely be interested in the extra 15- to -20 minute stop every single day. In contrast, some passengers might wish to take this bus only on certain AM or PM runs while not on others, and the ridership would likely vary on this bus from day to day (“leveling out” the ridership in the process). But particularly in major cities, a lot of runs operate on three- to five-minute headways. So waiting for the Valet/Errand bus might mean merely arriving at the bus stop five to 10 minutes earlier or later than usual. Likely, the target stop-and-stop center would either lie along the existing route, or would require a very slight deviation from it. And the stop-and-shop center would realistically be located near the downtown section of the route (before any of the inbound AM passengers alight, and before the outbound passengers do so on the PM return run), so that every rider can take advantage of the amenities this unique trip offers.
Think of the typical AM run: During the 15-20 minutes at the goods-and-service center, a typical passenger drops off his/her dry cleaning, makes a quick bank deposit or withdrawal, grabs a take-out breakfast and some gourmet coffee (the coach has a fold-down dinner tray, and a restroom), and picks up some computer software or hardware and possibly some stationary needed for work. On a PM run (not necessarily on the same day), the passenger could pick up his or her drying cleaning, snatch some essential, fresh groceries for dinner (including prepared food), a good bottle of wine (or the fabulous regional American beers that have emerged this past decade), prescription medicine (the prescription would have been called in and ready) or other drug store supplies such as baby good, toilet paper and other “off-the-shelf” items, and grab a bouquet of flower. Or if returning home was somewhat undesirable, the PM rider could instead gulp down two or three drinks at the tavern, complete the journey with a buzz (and not have to worry about safe driving issues), and face the music at home in better, or at least, more tolerable spirits.
Either way, how much better could one do in 15 to 20 minutes, with no gasoline costs and unlimited storage space? I can easily envision a couple of clothes rods installed in the luggage bays to hold the dry cleaning, and “padded” containers of all shapes and sizes to carry anything unstable or breakable. Keep in mind, the luggage compartments of commuter/express coaches lie largely unoccupied. Small items would obviously be carried on board and stored in the overhead package compartment, if they were not eaten or drunk.
As every motorcoach operator knows, pausing at rest stops has its perks. So too could be a stop at the mini-mall. Bringing in a hoard of completely new and regular costumers, perhaps a dozen or two at a time (every passenger would not use every store) is a small bonanza for such shops. Even without increasing the cost of goods to cover it, merchants should be glad to provide small commissions to the service providers – commissions with would significantly increase the motorcoach operator’s profits (and, in fact, could allow them to increase driver salaries and/or lower fares). Similarly, some merchants might also offer discounts to these customers – providing another bargain/bonus to the passengers that, among other things, would help offset the higher fares might be charged for riding on this unique trip.
Trends and Technology
We have probably heard too much already about our national obesity. But much of this is from eating “industrial” food – cheap meat traveling frozen for 1500 miles, two-day-old fruit during the off-season shipped to areas with winter climates, nearly-expired dairy products, and an overabundance of microwavable and prepared food. In a normal family’s or individual’s life, work, sleep, commuting, parking, and the endless intrusions into our lives like digital technology (and their learning curves and trouble-shooting), spam, the disappearance of consumer protection agencies, and the impunity given large corporations to commit unlimited crimes and scams that go uninvestigated and unpunished along with almost all white-collar crimes, have squeezed much out of our lives, including valuable activities like reading, cooking and exercising, much less hobbies. (Much of the result translated into “fast food” meals.) The Valet/Errand Bus could save its savvy user several valuable hours a week, and win back the time to perhaps cook a real meal once in a while, read a good book, find time to get in shape (and improve our health, lower our medical costs and increase our life spans), or spend more time with the kids or with friends.
Further, while digital paraphernalia have undoubtedly crowded much out of our lives, their use could actually help make The Valet/Errand Bus more efficient: Passengers could communicate with vendors and place orders even during the ride. In fact, with some technology, the purchases could be made in advance via simple credit car entries, and all the passengers would need to do at the one-stop-shop is to physically pick up their purchases.
Commuter/Express/Charter – A New Mode
In an odd way, this various of commuter/express service could actually create a fifth “sector” within the motorcoach industry – a paradigm shift in the traditional ways of classifying motorcoach service into four groups (charter, tour, intercity and commuter/express). Instead, The Valet/Errand Bus could also evolve into a combination Charter/Commuter Express service whereby the passengers could dictate the route, schedule and stops. A selected group of passengers might even work with the operator’s marketing and scheduling personnel to design entire modifications of existing routes to accommodate their fellow-riders’ particular needs. Within such an approach, the Commuter/Charter Express Bus could visit different services on different days – while perhaps serving as a conventional, efficient commuter/express run without any intermediate stops on certain days (like Fridays, when passengers might chose to simply arrive home earlier).
Fighting for Free Time
Far more common to small businesses like mine than to employees of larger companies, much of my free time is being eroded by the need to constantly buy and, worse, learn how to use what seems to be a completely new piece of hardware, software and business (e.g., Linked-In) and social (Facebook) media, spend countless time “on hold,” while, as noted, constantly victimized by corporate scams impossible to combat since consumer protection in America has virtually disappeared, and white collar crime continues unenforced. So I am literally frantic to offset these time-drains with ways to streamline those aspects of daily living that have been gradually, cleverly and systematically taken away from me.
I have a feeling I am not alone with regard to such a need. Regardless, the Valet/Errand Bus holds the potential to provide considerable respite to those individuals fortunate enough to live in bus corridors where such a mode is possible. As we gradually convert to smaller community-grown food (mostly for energy-related reasons, but also for health- and taste-related reasons), The Valet/Errand Bus holds the potential for making our weekdays manageable, and if we’re lucky, getting some of the drudgery and hassles out of the way that hold the promise of returning at least portions of what has often become weekend make-up time back to us. Needless to say, it certainly offers an opportunity to expand the role of motorcoaches in our society, and once again, illustrates the ever-surprising flexibility of this creature, and the almost countless ways it can be adapted to better our needs, serve society, and help move at least some heavily-populated parts of our country in a more intelligent, efficient, traffic-reducing and air-quality-improvement direction.
Remember the “old days?” Remember when you came home from work, and the night was yours? Well, the Valet/Errand Bus is not likely to turn the clock back quite that far. But it holds the potential to reverse the direction the corporate world and useless technology have tricked and cheated us into, and with which it has stolen much of our free time. It is a bitter irony that, with The Valet/Errand Bus, we may be doing that in a way that will continue to provide benefits to those institutions which have intruded into our lives to begin with. Yet not entirely. The destinations served by The Valet/Errand Bus – an unsubsidized motorcoach rather than a transit phenomenon – are largely up to the passengers, not the government or its transit agency.
Whether it represents the opportunity for a quick nap on the ride home from a long commute (when the coach is not moving, and most other passenger no longer on board), or the ability to get to sleep earlier by getting more things done efficiently, The Valet/Errand Bus can make a significant contribution in those locations where a community’s density, urban form and levels of public transportation ridership make it possible. Frankly, the biggest reward for me from all this would be a better night’s sleep. Although having more time to spend with my friends is a close second. But whatever the benefits are to each of its riders, the Valet/Errand Bus has the potential to deliver them.