Lane Transit District General Manager Mark Pangborn surprised everybody this morning when he announced a joint venture between the local transit authority and a nationwide chain of movie theaters. As of today, April 1st, LTD’s EmX buses will come equipped with IMAX movie screens and be renamed EmMAX, the nation’s first wide-screen transit-entertainment option.
“We have been concerned for quite some time that our buses often have empty seats,” Pangborn said, “so we have been looking for a partner to help us fill them. I was sitting and watching a movie at Valley River Center and almost every seat was taken for ‘I Am Number Four,’ which was really kind of a lousy movie. That’s when the light bulb went on.”
Greg Dunn, President and Chief Operating Officer for Regal Entertainment Group, liked the idea of a joint venture. “They have a captive audience on their buses. And if there’s anything we like better than an audience, it’s a captive audience.”
LTD Director of Development Services Tom Schwetz picked up the story from there. “The seating industry has been divided for too long. Sometimes you sit to stay put, but often you are sitting because it’s the quickest way to get somewhere. My nieces spend a lot of time in the back seat of a minivan. What are they doing most of the time? They are watching movies on tiny screens.”
Mimicking the minivan success posed an engineering challenge, because dozens of tiny screens would be expensive. Schwetz continued, “Airlines have done it, and now passengers are so entertained they don’t even require peanuts. But you have to remember that airlines charge hundreds of dollars for each seat. We charge a buck and a half. Fortunately, our brilliant engineers solved the problem in 20 minutes.”
“Administrators tend to think in one direction, because they want everything to keep moving forward and that’s good,” reflected LTD Director of Maintenance George Trauger, “but engineers look at a problem from every direction. This one had an easy fix. Our EmX buses are 60 feet long. We rearranged the seating and now, once you’re inside, what you experience is 60 feet of width.”
Beginning today, April 1st, each EmMAX has two long rows of seating with an ultra-wide screen mounted against one side, spanning the length of the bus. “Not a bad seat in the house,” boasted Dunn.
“I couldn’t be happier,” U.S. Congressman Peter DeFazio said in a prepared statement. “As somebody who commutes 6,000 miles to work each week, I know the value of offering good travel entertainment.”
Empty seats soon will be a thing of the past, predicted LTD Director of Service Planning Andy Vobora. “We fully expect buses to run at capacity every Friday and Saturday night. When you’re watching the latest spectacular installment of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series, it’ll be hard to remember you got on the bus to get somewhere.”
Even Jefferson Westside Neighborhood Association Chair Paul Conte has taken notice. “We’ve changed our minds. We want the EmMAX buses driving through our residential neighborhood and at greater frequency, because the on-board screens are so large and clear, our residents now can watch the movies from their living rooms. You only see 20 seconds every 10 minutes, but for a lot of movies, that’s enough to follow the plot. If the buses pass by every five minutes, we believe our residents will pick up more of the nuanced character development. All without paying to board a bus. Sweet!”
Discussions for additional joint ventures between the two organizations continue, according to Dunn. “Since LTD’s board is appointed and not elected, we believe their leadership can work well within our Regal culture.”
“We’re looking for redundancies. We’re looking into using the buses when they aren’t in motion. We have plenty of parking at Valley River Center,” Dunn confided. “so we’re rethinking the whole ‘drive-in theater’ concept. Maybe the driving part was never really necessary. I don’t spend a lot of time in Eugene, but whenever I’m there, one thing I notice is that people don’t really seem to want to get anyplace. Or when they do, they can’t agree where.”
Don Kahle (email@example.com) writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs. To celebrate April Fools Day, he made up parts of this column. For example, Tom Schwetz may not have nieces and Paul Conte never said “Sweet!”