Skip to main content

The Rise of Intercity Buses

Graham Beck has an excellent article in the current issue of Next American City about the rising popularity of inter-city bus service, the industry's not-so-rosy history, and the challenges it faces as demand for the service grows.

(from Flickr user Cher's Passion)

I've ridden these buses a few times now, and while the experience hasn't been amazing, it wasn't anything to really complain about either, especially for the price I paid. Really, I think the key to understanding why people are responding to inter-city bus service so positively is to look no further than the price of bus travel.

If I wanted to travel from DC to New York City, without driving, I would have essentially three options: bus, train or plane. The problem with traveling by plane is that I'd have to get to the airports, which isn't the easiest thing in these two cities. The buses and the trains offer a one-seat ride to and from essentially the same central locations (downtown DC and midtown Manhattan).

Let's say I wanted to do a weekend (Friday - Sunday) trip one month from now, and I wanted to travel from DC to New York. The round-trip rates I would pay, if I booked right now, would vary depending on the time of day that I pick; but roughly, it would be:

Acela Express: $270.00
Northeast Regional: $98.00
Boltbus: $38.50
Megabus: $26.50

Of these, the Acela Express is certainly the fastest and nicest option. It's also 9 times as expensive as Megabus. Is it 9 times more valuable to ride than the Megabus? Probably not.

It's not just that inter-city buses are competing with planes and trains, it's that they are blowing them out of the water when it comes to fares. And again, while the service may not be top-notch, people seem to be willing to accept that when they pay so little, they shouldn't expect a lot in return anyway. So long as they can get to and from their destination reasonably quickly, and reasonably on-time, that's good enough.

Comments

CityLights said…
Buses are more subsidized than trains. Bus tickets don't include the entire cost of maintaining the right of way, since many roads are paid for with local taxes, rather than gas taxes. The Amtrak subsidy is so laughably small that a much larger proportion of your ticket probably goes towards infrastructure maintenance.

Still, subsidies don't account for the entire difference. Economies of scale is another factor. If rail travel was proportionately developed to road travel, the number of options and competition would've reduced prices as well.

Then, of course, there is the speed and comfort premium you pay on trains.
JN said…
And you could save another $6 if you rode the Chinatown bus, which is generally $20 DC-NY. Book online at gotobus.com and you can often get $35 R/T.
Anonymous said…
I think these buses have created demand more than they've taken riders from planes and trains.

I went to a concert in NYC recently, and paid $6 round trip (total). I would never had made the trip if I had to have paid $50+ on amtrak, which is more than the price of the concert ticket. These bus lines have made day trips into eastern cities an easy option.

Popular posts from this blog

In Praise of Southwest's 'C' Boarding Group

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from someone complaining that their Southwest Airlines boarding pass had been assigned A20 (meaning they would be at least one of the first twenty passengers to board the plane). Apparently this person though they should have been assigned a higher number, less their flight experience be considerably spoiled.

Despite the complaints, Southwest has resisted demands to assign seats on its flights, a decision which I personally applaud. I'll admit that I was skeptical when they rolled out the newest boarding procedure, assigning both boarding groups and a line number; but in hindsight it seems like one of the best operational decisions they've ever made. If nothing else, it effectively eliminated the infamous "cattle call" whereby fliers were getting to airports hours in advance and sitting in line on the floor as if they were waiting for the midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie.

When I was an intern at Southwest Airlines last winter, I…

So You Want to be a Southwest Airlines Intern?

My personal website must have pretty decent SEO - because in the past year, I've received about two dozen emails from aspiring Southwest Airlines interns looking to draw on my experience in search of their own dream internship. In the past two weeks alone a few new emails have already started rolling in...

(from flickr user San Diego Shooter)

If you've found your way here, you might be hoping for the silver bullet; a secret tip that will propel you above the competition. Unfortunately, I do not know any inside secrets. I can only share my experience as an internship candidate about two years ago and, rather than responding individually to future emails I anticipate to receive, I hope that potential interns will find the information posted here valuable.

Understand: Southwest Airlines is a very unique company. The corporate culture at Southwest is truly unlike that of nearly every other company. But you probably already knew that, since it now seems mandatory for every management,…

Good Advertising

The blogosphere seems to be one fire over Microsoft's new "Lauren" TV commercial. Frankly, I don't see what the commotion is about.



If the critics are correct, then "Lauren" is actually Lauren De Long, a Screen Actors Guild eligible actress; and apparently, if you look close enough, she never even enters the Apple store.

Even if all of that is true, it doesn't refute the fact that Apple's laptops are significantly more expensive than most PCs. It isn't a lie that Apple doesn't sell any 17-inch laptops for less than a grand. The advertisement doesn't make any reference to the quality of the machines (or contest any of the claims made in Apple's "I'm a PC" commercials) or provide any good reason to buy one other than price.

As far as I can tell, after years of horrible commercials and a series of flops, Microsoft seems to finally have hired an ad agency that put together a decent advertisement. It's not likely to persuad…