Bus lines are looking to attract travelers with improved and expanded services

The plane offers luxury seating on its 14-passenger buses between New York and Washington, DC, along with in-seat attendant service and a UV air filter.

jet plane

For 28-year-old New York City resident James Gilmer, long-distance bus travel usually means something very specific: getting to and from his hometown of Pittsburgh during the holidays.

It’s a routine–and a route–familiar since childhood, when he and his sister would take the Megabus to Manhattan to visit his cousins ​​on New Year’s Eve. Other than that, Gilmer, now an entertainer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, wasn’t a regular bus rider, aside from local commutes and road tours to nearby towns with the dance company.

“I have nothing against that,” he said, referring to leisure travel on buses. “But the specific situation of traveling from Pittsburgh to New York has an affinity for me that is not found anywhere else, in terms of feeling comfortable on the bus.”

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When it comes to consumer comfort levels, bus travel often makes a big impact. In the popular imagination, buses are often a travel option of last resort.

Given that bias, her company saw an opportunity more than a decade ago, said Florencia Sirigliano, vice president of marketing for RedCoach — a luxury service with Argentine origins that has been operating in Florida since 2010. “People here are used to bus travel, but it’s a different kind of bus travel,” she said. “When we started, people said ‘What are you doing? Americans don’t want buses.”

“But a lot of people who wouldn’t take a regular bus would likely jump out of their cars if they were given the option of our type of bus,” Sirigliano said.

In fact, someone has been riding buses — of all kinds — all this time in the United States. According to Peter Pantoso, president of the American Bus Association, an industry group, in 2019, nearly 3,000 coach coach companies provided 600 million or more passenger trips. towards it. About 100,000 workers.

Then Covid struck. ‘With point to point [buses] … Overall, it will probably be around 50% of what it was in 2019 and is slowly returning,” he said, referring to the current passenger numbers. But every time there’s a new variable, you know, the brakes work and people back off again. “

However, Joseph Schwitterman, a professor in the School of Public Service, Department of Public Policy and Sustainable Urban Development at DePaul University, called this an “exciting time” in the industry, which serves twice as many American travelers as Amtrak.

“For the first time, we have three major national brands: Greyhound, Megabus and now FlixBus,” he said. (USA subsidiary of FlixBus’s FlixMobility acquired Greyhound on October 21, but the brands were not merged.)

“Everyone feels pressured to keep up with the latest technology amenities, [such as] Schwittermann said portable boarding passes, bus tracking software, and even Megabus have reserved seats. All three also emphasize value – competitive service at an attractive price.

Branding services as excellent reassure travelers who have reservations on buses.

Joseph Schwittermann

Professor at DePaul University

One of the trends that has gained traction in the past five years is business or first class lines that offer point-to-point service along with limited luxury seating; Food and drinks; And in some cases, on board. They are also priced competitively compared to rail and air offers on similar routes, and are often very discounted by comparison.

“There is a whole new type of business class service that is attracting tired travelers at airports,” Schwettermann said. “The cool spot is 125 to 250 miles–maybe 300 miles in absolute upward direction–that’s short enough that it never takes a bus ride.”

One obvious candidate is the corridor between New York and Washington. The roughly 225-mile route is already served by Air Transportation, Amtrak and several discount bus routes, yet newcomer The Jet launched direct first-class service between Manhattan’s Hudson Yards and the DC Metro Center in November, starting at $99. road.

The luxury bus operator The Jet offers passengers an exclusive “HoverSeat” to cancel traffic on New York and Washington flights.

jet plane

That fare, on a route where a business class ticket can cost $250 or more, gets passengers a reserved “HoverSeat” seat with fast-reclining Wi-Fi at a 45-degree angle; escort service upon request; And access to a large upscale bathroom. In a sign of both comfort and awareness of Covid, the number of seats has been reduced to 14, from the planned 19; Rows are spaced 6 feet apart; The latest UV air filtration system has also been installed. JetSet Rewards Program will be launching soon as well.

The real onboard feature is HoverSeat, which is the first ever application of current commercial technology to serve passengers, according to Chad Scarborough, founder and CEO of The Jet. An active, independent seat suspension system reads what’s happening under the occupants 100 times a second – and reacts accordingly.

“If it feels a bump, it measures the bump and then moves the seat in the exact opposite direction to face it,” he said, noting that the leg rests and tray tables move in sync with the seat. “So you end up like you’re kind of floating the whole trip…seeing the bus bouncing around you.”

Rethink intercity bus travel

A RedCoach business class coach passes the Texas Capitol in Austin.

RedCoach

Scarborough said he wants to completely rethink intercity travel. “We are trying to eliminate all the pain points [and] Creating a true first-class experience from booking to destination – but at a very reasonable price.”

The plane offers two non-stop flights daily between New York and Washington between Friday and Sunday. Scarborough is hoping to expand up to four departures per day, every weekday, in the spring, and is also considering other non-stop services in its two metro areas.

Other Motor Coach lines have been providing premium direct services for years.

C&J Bus Lines recently increased the frequencies of its existing services between New York and three cities in New England. Its buses to Portsmouth, Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Tewkesbury, Massachusetts, feature first-class double or single seats, electrical outlets, Wi-Fi, and a self-serve refreshment kitchen.

For its part, RedCoach—which has transported more than 25 million business and leisure travelers in the past decade on current Florida routes—expanded on October 15 to Texas, connecting Austin, Dallas, and Houston (with stops in Waco and College Station) with its 27-seater fleet. The first or 38 seats of business class buses. The maximum one-way fee on Texas roads ranges from $60 to $120.

“When people try our seats and experience comfort, Wi-Fi [and] comfort [drop-off] What’s more, unlike airlines, RedCoach doesn’t charge for seat assignments or baggage (two pieces and one hand luggage are allowed free) and some flights offer refreshments on board. The company also offers a loyalty rewards program called RedRiders.

She said the Covid-19 pandemic may have hit many carriers hard since March 2020, but RedCoach hasn’t stopped operating its lower-density coaches, and physical social distancing on board thanks to fewer seats has become a selling point. Now, higher gas prices are making the line’s trails look better for many Texans and Florida residents who might be driving themselves.

“With all the wear, mileage and how much it costs to fill your tank, [driving] Cirigliano adds. “We are luxury but also affordable and we want to make this concept accessible to everyone.”

Changing the mentality of passengers

RedCoach does not charge for seat assignments or baggage, as two pieces and one hand luggage are free.

RedCoach

Schwitterman of DePaul University estimates that dozens of bus routes are now in the game. “Most of the premium brands are specials by major carriers,” he said.

For example, Vamoose, with service on the New York-Washington lane, now offers up to four Vamoose Gold departures per day, with 34 wider leather seats (compared to the standard bus’s 56 class), more legroom, reading lights, Energy per seat and bottled water. Other lines with premium offerings include BestBus, which competes with Vamoose; Dartmouth, another operator of New York and New England; and Funlon in Texas and Oklahoma.

“Brand services as excellent reassure travelers who have bus reservations,” Schwettermann said. “It’s a game changer if done right and it will be easier for these business class operators to win over reluctant customers.”

Correction: RedCoach operates Class A buses with 26 seats in Texas, where the maximum one-way fare ranges from $15 to $35. The number of seats and the incorrect pricing appeared in an earlier version of this story.



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