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Intercity Bus Travel on the Rise in the U.S. and Abroad
An image showing Greyhound's re-branding and redesign.

An image showing Greyhound's re-branding and redesign.

We’ve said this before: the face of intercity bus travel is changing. The popularity of buses, in general,  is gaining ground for a number of reasons.  In cities from London to Los Angeles, buses are benefiting from sleek new designs, transit agencies’ marketing and rebranding campaigns, the use of social media to increase ridership, and new and improved services on longer bus routes.

Megabus (owned by Stage Group) and BoltBus (owned by Greyhound Inc. and Peter Pan Bus Lines) are two companies who have each served millions of customers since they started service over the last several years.

New Perks

These intercity bus lines offer cheaper fares than Amtrak and air travel while providing other amenities like wireless internet.  The bus systems also offer travelers the opportunity to use cell phones and can be less cumbersome when factoring the travel to and from airports and security checkpoints.  In some ways, buses are out-competing and out-edging other services by being more responsive to changing city dynamics and commuter needs.

According to a recent USA Today article, “bus companies are aggressively pursuing business travelers” to compete with Amtrak and airline companies.

Plus, these newer bus companies have the ability to act nimbly in selecting stop locations, and targeting specific groups and commuters. For example, BoltBus stops on its way to New York City in Greenbelt, Md. (on the Green Line of the D.C. Metro), Baltimore, Md. and then in New York City’s Penn Station; as opposed to Amtrak, which stops on the Red Line in Union station (farther downtown) and then heads to Penn Station for prices as much as $225 for same-day fares.  (A week-in-advance search yielded fares for $75.)  BoltBus is flexible for ticket purchases, as well. Riders can buy same-day tickets (depending on availability) for about $15 to $20.  Plus, BoltBus rewards the first passenger to book a seat on each of its East Coast routes with a $1 fare. The service is so useful that New Haven, Conn. attempted to lure the bus company to the region last year.

Shifting the Image

Greyhound has also undergone a significant rebranding and redesign, influenced by its part-ownership of BoltBus. The company removed five seats in new buses to give riders more than a foot of extra legroom. Greyhound, too, offers wireless internet and power outlets.

For travelers in the Southeast,  RedCoach overs high-end service with only 27 seats per bus, personal tables and reclining seats.

For some Americans, bus travel remains a last resort; people associate it with seedy bus depots, uncleanliness and cramped quarters.

But others can’t resist the price. Megabus.com, an intercity bus operator serving 17 Midwest cities and 11 Northeast cities, says “the number one reason our customers travel with us is our low fares.”

Examples Abroad

In Israel, Egged Ltd. is another example of a widely used transit option between dense and closely spaced cities. Half of all Israelis use the bus service that offers a monthly pass and 3,033 service line buses to 1 million daily passengers.

Intercape covers a network of major cities and towns in South Africa. The company offers discounts for families, youth, elderly, students and backpackers. However, recent press has exposed the bus company’s poor accident record and stirred complaints about “irresponsible broadcasting” from right-wing evangelical passengers.

intercape bus map

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  • Mastodont

    I would also recommend http://www.atcbuses.com in Orlando, Florida, USA.

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  • Josh,

    No doubt travel by bus is the preferred mode of intercity transportation in Latin America and, as Jonna points out in the post, in many other parts of the world. As low-cost air carriers enter the market and per capita income rises, as we are seeing in Brazil, it will be interesting to see how the industry faces such changes. Will we see long-haul bus service take the same route as the industry in the United States took over the past fifty years or step up to the challenge to their market dominance?

    It may take a bit or, really, quite longer, but I like a good bus ride. You know, it’s hard to see the ocean waves rolling in or the mountains rise up on the horizon from 35,000 feet up in the air.

    Happy travels!

  • In my travels in South America, Bus is basically the #1 form of transport for most people. There are generally a few different choices for each route that offer different levels of amenity — on one end the stereotypical crowded bus, possible with chickens on the roof; on the other big wide seats that recline all the way back for sleeping — but the system totally works. I had a great time getting around Uruguay and Argentina and Brazil like this.

    It lacks the mingling social feel created by the width and length of a train , but it’s cheap, gets you where you want to go, and seemed to be a good solution for all sorts of folks from all walks of life.

  • Hi Erick,

    The article I linked to in the last paragraph says Intercape’s record is the fourth-worst in the country: “Figures indicated that Intercape had 32 accidents – making the bus company the fourth worst in the country, ahead of the embattled Roadlink, which was ranked at 13.”
    Here’s another article highlighting a crash.
    Also, I’ll look into the other bus companies and potentially follow up with some more information – I wasn’t intending to be inclusive but rather, show a few examples.

  • Jonna, saw the article about Intercape’s complaints.. appologies

  • By the way, in addition to Inter Cape, we also have Greyhound, Translux and SA Roadlink. It is rather Roadlink which have been affected by its high accident rates and not Inter – Cape. Otherwise please give me your supporting articles that suggests that.

    Erick

  • My brother who is in Cape town has used Inter Cape before. For long distances (Joburg – Cape town with distances of more than 1000 km), these companies are getting competition from Low Cost Carriers (e.g. Mango.co.za). He told me he rather pay more because it takes more days to get to Cape Town than by air which is a 3 hour flight.

  • New services are able to keep cost unnaturally low by blocking city streets and not paying for space at public facilities like port authority. Many bus stations are in poor condition and poor locations. Circumventing them will not help the system.

  • Steve

    Responding to Allison: I think some of the increase involves the bus companies’ actually expanding the market. As a non-wealthy, non-student in Boston, I’m someone who has increased my travel to New York over the past decade because the buses have gotten so cheap–and don’t forget that Greyhound/Peter Pan (same ownership) offer Internet fares that often match Bolt and MegaBus. I will say that service on the “legacy carriers” is often pathetic–no information at terminals when buses are late, cranky employees who are no doubt being pushed to the limit by management. Still, when you’re paying $15 for a trip that would cost you six or more times that on Amtrak (and don’t get me wrong, I do love the train), you grin and bear it.

    One historical note: This all began in the mid 1990s with the so-called “Chinatown” bus services–dirt-cheap, off-the-books vans that carried immigrant Asian customers and the occasional intrepid non-Asian between the Boston, Philly and DC Chinatowns and New York. Word spread outside these small groups, business picked up, and the services graduated to larger vans and then full-fledged buses (questionable safety records for some of them). These folks really created the “market space” that Bolt and MegaBus and their ilk have moved to fill–without, it’s worth noting, shutting down the still-operating Chinatown bus lines.

  • Jonna,

    I wonder what the demographic breakdown of the increase is – is it mostly college aged students or are the companies successful at luring business travelers?

    Good coverage!