Saturday, March 19, 2011

The logic of the overnight gambling bus

There's been a lot of discussion in the press lately about the spectacular crash of an overnight gambling bus on the Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx. What I've been trying to wrap my head around for the past few days is the concept of an overnight gambling bus, and what it says about the failure of planning in the country and the region.

First of all, it clearly shows that anyone who says "Americans won't take transit" is full of shit. Sure, these are Chinese-Americans, mostly first generation immigrants, who don't want to spend a lot of money on anything but gambling. They live in the densest, most transit-rich part of the country. They're gambling addicts, driven by their addiction.

That said, they live in America, and I'd imagine that many of them own cars. But here they are sitting on a bus for eight hours in the middle of the night. They pay the full operating cost of the bus, which makes a profit with no more subsidies than any other commercial vehicle.

Mode choices - a single trip or a habit - are not inherent in American culture, or in the topography. They're a response to economic incentives. These people have a burning desire to gamble, and the only time they can do it is at night. They're exhausted, and they don't have the energy to drive hundreds of miles. In these circumstances gambling itself doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but the bus does.


arcady said...

These people may pay the full operating cost of the bus incurred by the operator, but not all of it is paid as fares. Apparently the casino owners subsidize the buses, since they bring them customers. This logic works for trains too: the ACES train is partly paid for by the casinos. It would work for the Mohegan Sun Casino too, since it's conveniently next to a rail line, except that they'd need a new station and permission to run more trains across that drawbridge east of Old Saybrook.

Jonathan said...

There are plenty of people who drive their own cars nightly to casinos too, but their accidents are not as noteworthy. I am kind of disappointed in this post; I thought you were going to argue for more conveniently located casinos in order to spare the hopelessly addicted the long dangerous bus ride.

busplanner said...

Some basics:

1. The casinos subsidize the cost of the buses by either one or both of the following:

a. Paying the bus operator for the run to the casino
b. Reimbursing the passengers through meal and gambling vouchers or other bonuses

2. Operating costs per hour relative to fare collected is generally lower on high speed highway services than on low speed urban services, giving the operator an opportunity to make a profit.

3. Nevertheless, many of these low cost operators cut corners, whether casino runs or line haul runs such as the NYC - Philadelphia bus that crashed on the NJ Turnpike a few days after the casino bus crash. This is best illustrated by the surprise inspections done by NY State Troopers on buses today (3/19). According to a news report, 14 of 14 buses had either major safety defects or bus operators who did not have proper licenses and/or logs.

jazumah said...

The overnight casino bus is a national phenomenon not limited to ethnic populations. In fact, another one went off the road last week in Minnesota early in the morning, killing one person and injuring 22.

Not only is the casino bus a form of transit, it is sometimes the only recreation that these individuals get. They do not lose much money at the casino, but casinos use bus passengers to fill in their weaker times by offering greater midweek discounts. The prioritization is purely economic, as the casinos do not reduce parking to drive up ridership.

This is the way to divert people to transit: comfort and incentives if needed.