Intercity bus lines look to win over wary travelers with upgraded, expanded services

The Jet presents luxurious seating in its 14-passenger coaches between New York and Washington, D.C., alongside with at-seat attendant service and UV air filtration.

The Jet

For New York City resident James Gilmer, 28, long-distance journey by bus often means one thing very particular: getting to and from his hometown of Pittsburgh in the course of the holidays.

It’s a routine — and route — acquainted from childhood, when he and his sister would take Megabus to Manhattan to go to cousins for New Year’s. Otherwise, Gilmer, now an artist with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, hasn’t actually been an everyday bus rider, other than native commutes and occasional street excursions to close by cities with the dance firm.

“I don’t have anything against it,” he stated, referring to motorcoach leisure journey. “But the specific situation of traveling from Pittsburgh to New York has a familiarity about it for me that doesn’t exist anywhere else, in terms of feeling comfortable aboard a bus.”

When it comes to client consolation ranges, bus journey typically will get a bum rap. In the favored creativeness, buses are sometimes the journey choice of final resort.

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Given that bias, stated Florencia Cirigliano, vp of promoting for RedCoach — a luxurious service with origins in Argentina that has operated in Florida since 2010 — her firm noticed a chance greater than a decade in the past. “People here are used to bus travel, but it’s a different kind of bus travel,” she stated. “When we started, people said ‘What are you doing? Americans don’t want buses.’

“But many individuals who would by no means get on an everyday bus would in all probability bounce out of their vehicles in the event that they got our form of bus choice,” Cirigliano said.

Indeed, someone’s been riding buses — of all types — all this time in the U.S. According to Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, an industry group, in 2019 nearly 3,000 motorcoach companies provided a record 600 million passenger trips or so and employed about 100,000 workers.

Then Covid hit. “With point-to-point [buses] … general, it is in all probability about 50% of the place it was in 2019 and slowly coming again,” he said, referring to current passenger numbers. “But each time there is a new variant, you recognize, the brakes go on and other people pull again once more.”

Still, Joseph Schwieterman, professor in the School for Public Service, Department of Public Policy and Sustainable Urban Development​ at DePaul University, called this “an thrilling time” in the industry, which serves twice as many U.S. travelers as Amtrak.

“For the primary time, we’ve three massive nationwide manufacturers: Greyhound, Megabus and now FlixBus,” he said. (FlixBus USA parent FlixMobility acquired Greyhound on Oct. 21, but the brands have not been integrated.)

“They every really feel strain to sustain with the newest tech conveniences, [such as] cellular boarding passes and bus tracker applications, and Megabus even has reserved seats,” said Schwieterman. “All three additionally stress worth — rival service at a lovely worth.”

One trend that’s picked up steam in the last five years is business- or first-class motorcoach lines that offer point-to-point service along with limited, luxury seating; food and drinks; and, in some cases, on-board attendants. They are also competitively priced compared to rail and air offerings on similar routes, and are often highly discounted in comparison.

“There’s an entire new breed of business-class services which can be wooing airport-weary flyers,” said Schwieterman. “The candy spot is a distance of between 125 miles and 250 miles — perhaps 300 on absolutely the upside — the place it is brief sufficient {that a} bus journey does not take an eternity.”

Branding services as premium does reassure travelers who have reservations about buses.

Joseph Schwieterman

Professor at DePaul University

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

That fare, on a route where a business-class airline ticket can run $250 and up, gets passengers a  reserved “HoverSeat” motion-canceling seat with a 45-degree recline, fast-streaming Wi-Fi; on-demand attendant service; and access to a large upscale restroom. In a nod to both comfort and Covid-awareness, the number of seats was reduced to 14, from a planned 19; rows are spaced 6 feet apart; and a state-of-the-art UV air filtration system was installed. The JetSet rewards program will launch soon, as well.

The real standout aboard is the HoverSeat, the first-ever application of existing commercial technology to passenger service, according to Chad Scarborough, founder and CEO. An active, independent seat suspension reads what’s happening beneath riders 100 times per second — and reacts accordingly.

“If it feels a bump, it measures the bump after which strikes the seat within the precise wrong way to counteract it,” he said, noting that leg rests and tray tables move in sync with the seat. “So you find yourself simply form of floating for the entire experience … seeing the bus bounce round you.”

Rethinking intercity bus journey

Luxury motorcoach operater The Jet offers passengers its exclusive motion-canceling “HoverSeat” on New York-Washington trips.

The Jet

Scarborough said he wanted to completely rethink intercity travel. “We’re making an attempt to get rid of all of the ache factors [and] create a real first-class expertise from background by vacation spot — however at a really cheap worth,” he said.

The Jet is offering two nonstop departures a day between New York and Washington between Friday and Sunday. Scarborough hopes to scale up to four departures per day, every day of the week, come spring, and is also considering other point-to-point nonstop services in the two metro areas.

Other motorcoach lines have been offering deluxe direct services for years.

C&J Bus Lines recently upped 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, Massachusetts, feature first-class double or single seating, power outlets, Wi-Fi and a self-service refreshment galley.

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

“When individuals strive our seating and expertise the consolation, the Wi-Fi [and] the comfort of our [drop-off] places in contrast to flying and going by the TSA and all, they’re form of hooked,” said Cirigliano. What’s more, unlike airlines, RedCoach doesn’t charge for seat assignments or luggage (two pieces and a carry-on are allowed for free) and some routes offer on-board refreshments. The firm also offers a loyalty rewards program, called RedRiders.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have hit many transportation companies hard since March 2020, but RedCoach never stopped operating its lower-density coaches and, the de facto on-board social distancing thanks to fewer seats became a selling point, she said. Now, rising gases prices are making the line’s routes look even better to many Texans and Floridians who might other drive themselves.

“With all the wear and tear and tear, the mileage and the way a lot it prices to fill your tank, [driving] provides up,” Cirigliano said. “We’re luxurious but in addition inexpensive and we would like to make this idea obtainable to all people.”

Changing passengers’ mindset

“Traveling from Pittsburgh to New York has a familiarity for me… that does not exist wherever else, by way of feeling snug aboard a bus,” said James Gilmer, artist with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York.

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

Schwieterman at DePaul University estimates that a dozen motorcoach lines have now gotten into the game. “Most of the premium manufacturers are particular choices by mainstream carriers,” he said.

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

“Branding services as premium does reassure travelers who’ve reservations about buses,” said Schwieterman. “It’s a game-changer if completed appropriately and these business-class operators are going to have a better job of profitable over reluctant prospects.”

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