Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Efficiency varies from crew to crew. (Blog #6 [Graded], Group 2, Question 2)

Taylor's emphasis on efficiency made me think about how we, the Kennywood Team Members, operate our rides at Kennywood. Our supervisors do stress to us how important it is to make our opperations efficient, especially on busy days when all of the queue lines are pretty much overflowing. The problem our crew has is that the rides we operate, the Skycoaster and the Racer, are far from efficient. To put it simple, while most of the other rides are controlled by computers and are mostly automated, ours have to be operated manually. The Skycoaster is the biggest problem for us, because we have to harness the guests, hook them up to the flight cables, winch them up, fly them, catch them, unhook them from the cables, and unharness them in less than 6 minutes. This is why it takes AT LEAST five (ideally seven) of us to operate the Skycoaster. There is also pressure on us because the Skycoaster is the Kennywood money-maker. Keeping all of the flights on-time is priority.

Fortunately, once you get the hang of it, operating the Skycoaster becomes easier and you can get flights in and out faster. The advantage of operating quickly is the reward at the end of the day. If we move quickly, we can stay ahead of schedule and close the Skycoaster early. This requires that everyone does what they are supposed to do. Harness people up, leave and come back from breaks on time, rotate when you are supposed to, and get the riders hooked to the cables as fast and as safely as possible. Unfortunately, this is where the problem lies. Unless there is a supervisor present at the Skycoaster, several of our team members just slack off and don't do a thing. Now, I'm not exactly blaming them. It is natural for us to slack off and take it easy, as Taylor discribed. It is an annoyance, though, because I'm harnessing three people and there are two team members sitting on the benches either just looking around or text messaging on their phones. Of coarse, things change once a supervisor starts walking across the bridge (everyone up, phones away).

The Racer is different from the Skycoaster, apart from the obvious fact that it is a wooden coaster. However, it does have some efficiency issues. The problem the Racer has is that it is a classic wooden coaster operating in the 21st Century, with only ONE set of trains and a 50-or-so-year-old braking system. Everything on the Racer - lap bars, chain lift, brakes - is still manually operated. The trick with the Racer is to park the trains, get the previous riders off, load the next set of riders, check seatbelts, lock and check the lap bars, and send the trains out as fast as possible. The problem we usually encounter is that most riders want the front of the trains and when they don't get the front seats, they either try to let other people go in front of them (that is not allowed) or play Musical Chairs and move from one seat to another. This drives me insane!

Once everyone is seated, each of us (there are two of us down on the platform) pick a train and walk the full length, checking seatbelts (and every single time we catch someone not wearing their seatbelt). Once all of the seatbelts are checked we can then lower the bars and check them. Once both trains are checked, we give the thumbs up and the trains leave. Because we cannot control how quickly people board the trains, we have to move as quickly as we can when checking seatbelts and bars. The problem we have is that we only have two trains (plus a spare train on the maintenance track), so once we get the trains out we have to wait nearly two minutes for them to come back. It would be much better if we could get another set of trains so that we have two sets operating at one time, but the 50-year-old braking system doesn't allow us to do that without running into a safety hazard. A system that old doesn't operate as well as it used to. As an example, a few weeks ago we had a problem develop that sometimes the check brake on the left track would not deploy, and the train would charge into the station at an alarming speed. This happened twice, fortunately the trains stopped on the station brake. That is the efficiency problem we are facing with the Racer. A system that old cannot operate without running into problems.

I know that I am putting most of the blame for our lack of efficiency at Kennywood on the rides we operate, but often the problem lies with my fellow team members. The thing is that our manager doesn't really care about what we do, so organization is a problem on our crew. As a comparison, a few months ago I had to go and extra at the Phantom's Revenge. Their manager, Lenny, runs a tight ship. He writes the break schedule and makes sure everyone comes back from their break on time or they get marked for taking an hour break (breaks are half hour each). He makes sure everyone rotates when they are supposed to and that EVERYONE is doing what they are supposed to be doing. Efficiency at the Phantom was not a problem, because Lenny does not tolerate any screwing around, and even though he is tough, everyone likes him. While I was there at the Phantom, there was no screwing around. When the train came in, everyone got out and as the new riders were boarding, the team members were already at their starting positions checking seatbelts and lap bars. On a few occasions we managed to get the one train out of the station before the other train hit the brake run.

This brings me on to Taylors work. Often times it seems that authority is needed to ensure that everyone does what they are suppose to be doing. On our crew, the only time everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing is when a supervisor is either in the tent at the Skycoaster or in the operator's booth at the Racer. The reason people slack off on our crew when no supervisors are around is because our manager doesn't really care. On the Phantom's Revenge, on the other hand, Lenny IS the authority. He takes charge of his crew and everyone respects him, that's why things are more orderly at the Phantom (explains why they won the Kennywood: Battle of the Crews for this season). This really isn't scientific, it's just our nature. Some sort of authority must be present for everyone to do what they should be doing. It doesn't just apply to work, it can also be applied to normal life. Take driving, for instance. Naturally, most drivers (including myself) develop what can be described as "bad habits" while driving a car. Aggressive driving, speeding, one hand on the wheel, eating, talking on the cell phone, etc. We all do stupid things behind the wheel of a car, but as soon as a police cruiser shows up everyone turns into a good driver, which brings me on to my off-topic side note:

WE NEED MORE UNMARKED UNITS! (What people do around these cars is so amusing.)

In order to work efficiently, there must be some sort of order and authority. From working at Kennywood, I know how important it is for authority to be present. It really isn't scientific as it is more or less just simple knowledge

Authority = good behavior = efficiency.

As a bit of an after thought, as far as Kennywood is concerned, things at the Skycoaster have deteriorated so far that I am considering transferring over to the Phantom crew.


Adam Johns said...

One thing I like about this post it that you're addresses (in a slightly roundabout way) one of the central but nearly unspoken things in Taylor: power. I think your discussion helps explain the fact that many people find Taylor to be a kind of proto-fascist (remember that one of Mussollini's great selling points, for which Churchill admired him, is that he made the trains run on time...)...

To me, here's how the rides break down, as you describe them:

Skycoaster - inefficient, because nobody is consistently in control, yet it requires tightly regulated, fast Tayloresque motion to run efficiently.

Phantom - efficient, because the machinery is efficient and management is rather Tayloresque - everybody's movements are regulated at all times.

Race - inefficient, because the machinery is so unreliable that good management can't do anything with it.

You could have done more with Taylor himself here. As fun as this post is, and as clearly as it relates to Taylor, you're not relating this back to what Taylor actually says. How does Taylor (implicitly or explicitly) manage to keep and hold real power, the sort that can make things run efficiently...

As a side note, amusement parks in general and Kennywood in particular were created by Trolley companies to efficiently use both the slack time on the trolley lines and surplus electrical power at the times of day when there was little demand otherwise... Details available on request.

A. Benevent said...

Your bit about how we tend to "soldier" behind the wheel of a car is particularly true. God knows that I have mastered the art of texting on my cell phone, smoking a cigarette, and driving a manual transmission all at once. What's interesting to note, though, is that none of these things are inherently illegal. It's not against the law to be an inattentive driver -- it's just not a real good decision. Following up on this trend, though, it is illegal in some states (like New Jersey) to use a cellphone while driving. This doesn't stop people from doing it, however, whether they just use their handset or use a more stealth feature, such as a bluetooth headset or one of those fancy in-car phone rigs. This is something of a conundrum as far as Taylor is concerned, because we're slacking off in terms of driving, we're soldiering behind the wheel, but at the same time, we're being efficient in as much as we're using time that would otherwise be used for nothing but sitting in traffic or driving the same stretch of road we do every day, where we really aren't doing anything else and utilizing it for communications. One could even perform business from their phone whilst driving. I wonder what Taylor would think about this?