Bus lines seek to appeal to travelers with improved and extended services

The Jet offers luxury one-to-two seating on its 14-passenger coaches between New York City and Washington, DC, along with seat attendant service and UV air filtration.

The jet

For James Gilmer, 28, a New Yorker, long-distance bus travel usually means something very specific – getting to his hometown of Pittsburgh on vacation.

It’s a routine – and an itinerary – familiar from childhood, when he and his sister took Megabus to Manhattan to visit cousins ​​for New Years. Otherwise, Gilmer, now an artist at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, has not really been a regular on the buses, other than local trips and occasional tours to nearby towns with the dance company.

“I have nothing against it,” he said, referring to leisure coach travel. “But the specific situation of traveling from Pittsburgh to New York has a familiarity to me that doesn’t exist anywhere else, in terms of comfort on a bus. “

When it comes to consumer comfort, bus travel is often caught off guard. In the popular imagination, buses are often the travel option of last resort.

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Given that bias, said Florencia Cirigliano, vice president of marketing for RedCoach – a luxury service originally from Argentina and operating in Florida since 2010 – her company saw an opportunity more than a decade ago. “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 would never get on a regular bus would likely jump out of their cars if we offered them our type of bus option,” Cirigliano said.

Indeed, someone has been taking buses – of all types – all this time in the United States. According to Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, an industry group, in 2019 nearly 3,000 bus companies made a record 600 million passenger trips and employed around 100,000 workers.

Then Covid struck. “With point to point [buses] … Overall it’s probably about 50% of what it was in 2019 and is slowly coming back, ”he said, referring to the current number of passengers. “But every time there’s a new variant, you know the brakes go on and people go backwards again.”

Yet Joseph Schwieterman, professor in the School for Public Service, Department of Public Policy and Sustainable Urban Development at DePaul University, called this period 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. (FlixBus USA’s parent company, FlixMobility, acquired Greyhound on October 21, but the brands were not integrated.)

“They all feel obligated to follow the latest technologies, [such as] mobile boarding passes and bus tracking programs, and Megabus even has reserved seats, ”Schwieterman said. “All three also focus on value – competitive service at an attractive price. “

One trend that has accelerated over the past five years is for business or first-class coach lines that offer point-to-point service as well as limited luxury seating; Food and drinks; and, in some cases, attendants on board. They are also competitively priced compared to rail and air deals on similar routes, and are often quite advantageous in comparison.

“There is a whole new category of business class service that attracts weary travelers from airports,” said Schwieterman. “The sweet spot is a distance of between 125 and 250 miles – maybe 300 on the absolute rise – where it’s short enough that a bus trip doesn’t take forever.”

Marking the services as premium reassures travelers who have reservations about buses.

Joseph schwieterman

Professor at DePaul University

One obvious candidate is the New York-Washington corridor. The approximately 225-mile-long route is already served by airline shuttles, Amtrak, and several discount coach lines, but newcomer The Jet has launched first-class direct service between Hudson Yards in Manhattan and the DC’s Metro Center in November, starting at $ 99 one way.

This fare, on a route where a business class plane ticket can cost $ 250 and up, offers passengers a reserved seat with “HoverSeat” motion cancellation with a 45-degree tilt, fast-streaming Wi-Fi ; attendant service on demand; and access to large, high-end toilets. In a nod to comfort and awareness of Covid, the number of seats has been reduced to 14, from 19 planned; rows are spaced 6 feet apart; and a state-of-the-art UV air filtration system was installed.

The real star on board is the HoverSeat, the very first application of existing commercial technology to passenger service, according to Chad Scarborough, Founder and CEO. An active, independent seat suspension reads what is happening under cyclists 100 times per second and reacts accordingly.

“If he feels a bump, he measures the bump, then moves the seat in the exact opposite direction to counter it,” he said, noting that the legrests and trays move in sync with the seat. . “So you end up floating the entire trip… seeing the bus bouncing around you.” “

Rethinking interurban bus travel

Luxury coach operator The Jet offers passengers its exclusive motion-cancellation “HoverSeat” on New York-Washington journeys.

The jet

Scarborough has said he wants to completely rethink intercity travel. “We try to eliminate all the pain points [and] create a true first class experience, from the background to the destination, but at a very reasonable price, ”he said.

The Jet offers two non-stop departures per day between New York and Washington between Friday and Sunday. Scarborough hopes to increase to four departures per day, every day of the week, in the spring, and is also considering other non-stop point-to-point services in the two metropolitan areas.

Other coach lines have been offering direct luxury 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 and Seabrook in New Hampshire and Tewksbury in Massachusetts have first-class double or single seats, power outlets, Wi-Fi and a refreshment kitchen. self service.

For its part, RedCoach – which has carried more than 25 million business and leisure travel passengers over the past decade on its existing routes in Florida – expanded on October 15 to Texas, connecting Austin, Dallas and Houston (with stops at Waco and College Station) with its fleet of first-class 27-seater or 38-seater business class coaches. Maximum one-way fares on Texas routes range from $ 60 to $ 120.

“When people try our seats and experience the comfort, the Wi-Fi [and] the convenience of our [drop-off] in relation to the theft and going through TSA and everything, they’re kind of hooked up, ”Cirigliano said. Also, unlike airlines, RedCoach does not charge for seating or baggage allocation (two pieces and one carry-on are allowed free of charge) and some routes offer refreshments on board.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have hit many transport companies hard since March 2020, but RedCoach has never stopped operating its lower density coaches and, de facto onboard social distancing through less seating has become a selling point, she said. Now, rising gas prices are making the line’s routes even better for many Texans and Floridians who could drive themselves.

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

Changing the mindset of passengers

“Traveling from Pittsburgh to New York is familiar to me… one that doesn’t exist anywhere else, in terms of comfort on a bus,” said James Gilmer, artist with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York City.

San Francisco Chronicle / Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images | Hearst Newspapers | Getty Images

Schwieterman of DePaul University estimates that a dozen coach lines have now entered the game. “Most of the premium brands are specials from traditional operators,” he said.

For example, Vamoose, with service on the New York-Washington corridor, now offers up to four Vamoose Gold departures per day, with 34 wider leather seats (compared to their standard coach class of 56), more than legroom, reading lights, electricity in the seat and bottled water. Other lines with premium offers include BestBus, in competition with Vamoose; Dartmouth, another New York-New England operator; and Vonlone, Texas and Oklahoma.

“Both branded and premium services provide reassurance for travelers who have reservations on the bus,” said Schwieterman. “It’s a game-changer if done right and these business class operators will have an easier time winning reluctant customers. “

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