The RIDE opens in The Big Apple
The tour takes in streetside experiential entertainment
By Glenn Swain
More than a few visitors to New York City have been taken for a ride in a not-so-good way. But now scores are enjoying a new experience called THE RIDE. This state-of-the-art coach experience is an amalgamation of a motorcoach tour and live entertainment. Four fully customized Prevost shells make up THE RIDE fleet. The customized motorcoaches roll through the heart of Manhattan on a 75-minute tour as a constantly changing show featuring actors and performers unfolds for passengers looking through massive windows onto New York City sidewalks.
“It is a new category of entertainment,” says RIDE President and CEO Jonathan Danforth. “The streets of New York are the world’s biggest stage and THE RIDE gives our passengers front row seats. I’ve coined the tour experiential entertainment. It’s creative and innovative.”
He says the tour is about experiencing the fabric of New York through the eyes of talented and funny people and life-long residents who love the city and its history.
As the bus pulls away from its base at the New York Marriott Marquis in the heart of Times Square, passengers sit in comfortable stadium-style, side-facing seats and enjoy on-board hosts, high-tech monitors and a sound system that emulates everything from a rumbling subway – without the unique subway station aroma – to a disco night at Studio 54. Iconic New York City locales like the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and Columbus Circle are short stops on the route. Along the way hired actors, singers and performers put on an improvised show for RIDE passengers. While there are constants to each trip, the distinctive and often idiosyncratic city dwellers can unknowingly become part of the street side entertainment.
Danforth was confident that he could make this venture a success, relying on his experience in the transit industry to back it up. Before leading THE RIDE, Danforth worked at Fidelity Investments. While there he ran Boston Coach, a worldwide transportation company, for five years.
Michael Counts, an industrial architect, conceived the idea for THE RIDE five years ago. He contacted Danforth through venture capitalists last year and enticed him to take over the business.
“I came on to really put it on the road,” Danforth says. “The concept and the buses were not even finished yet.”
Amped up bus
THE RIDE buses begin with a 45-foot Prevost shell. Then LDV Bus Converter Company, Burlington, WI works with design engineers to custom outfit THE RIDE coaches. The reshaped and “amped up” rock-star tour buses with fiberglass molds are so unique they carry three patents. The 13-foot high vehicles are the tallest allowed by federal law on city streets.
The interiors feature 49 stadium-style seats in three rows along with a theater’s worth of equipment, more than 3,000 LED lights and 40 video monitors installed for a true sound and lights extravaganza.
“It’s an immersion of incredible video and 25,000 watts of sound with 120 speakers in a tour bus that people have never been in before,” Danforth says. “Each vehicle contains miles of wire and nine tons of HVAC capacity, enough to heat or cool nine suburban homes.”
The vehicles even sport floor-shaker technology which emulates the feel and sound of everything from a subway passing underneath to the inside of a nightclub. The vehicle’s external speakers and lighting allow riders and on-board performers to interact with THE RIDE’s street performers as well as anyone else passing on the street. While costs to rebuild the buses are high, Danforth says the bottom line is declining due to changes to what he calls over-engineering.
He says the shell is about $450,000 and the conversion is about $850,000, adding up to about $1.3 million.
The show goes on
Up to 70 performers — many looking for their big break on Broadway — as well as technicians, drivers, box office workers and administrators keep THE
RIDE rolling. The production team has television backgrounds from shows such as “Late Night with David Letterman, “Saturday Night Live” and “The Colbert Report.”
“We actually do casting calls just like a Broadway show would do,” Danforth says. “If we’re looking for a hip-hop dancer or someone to do ballet or sing, we’ll put out the call. We pull many of the hosts from a union that represents improv actors.”
But unlike a Broadway show, THE RIDE’s entertainment is changing constantly.
“We alter the shows probably three or four times a year,” says Danforth. “We did an entire holiday ride in December, where it had a holiday feel with music, lights, decorations and costumes. In February our theme focused on Valentine’s Day. We meet with scriptwriters and create the show and make it fresh. If someone takes THE RIDE in June then gets on in December, it will be a very different experience.”
Danforth is eyeing other cities to launch THE RIDE. Among them are Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Danforth says THE RIDE in Chicago may be themed around jazz music, but he wants to always bring out the authenticity of any city where THE RIDE becomes available. BR