Convenience, amenities, cost and a growing eco-consciousness continue to be major factors for the growth of express bus services in the U.S. As their popularity grows, operations including Megabus, Greyhound, and Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus Lines subsidiary BoltBus have begun spreading from the Northeast to the Midwest, and now, to the West.
“We saw that passengers were looking for a way to get from one destination to another more conveniently,” says Timothy Stokes, spokesperson for Greyhound and BoltBus. “They wanted a different way of travel, and by piloting Bolt Bus and Greyhound Express, we have been able to provide that.”
The outcry for these types of services only continues to grow, adds Dale Moser, president/COO of Coach USA Inc., which Megabus is a subsidiary of.
“There is growth for this type of service all across North America,” he says. “We’ve been getting tremendous amounts of requests through our social networks, blogs and Internet asking for Megabus to bring our services to other parts of the U.S., where we haven’t developed it yet. There is really a pent-up need out there.”
Services and growth
Launched in 2006, with zero brand recognition and based off of a model its parent company Stagecoach Group had in place in Europe for only two years, Megabus served one million passengers in 18 months, according to Moser.
“Today, with more than 90 cities being served, we run 250 buses, traveling millions and millions of miles, and service a million customers every 38 days,” he says.
Megabus was the first to offer express bus service, featuring a yield pricing strategy. Its quick and almost instant growth was a major catalyst for other carriers to re-think their services.
This spring, Greyhound Express expanded to add 19 new markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nashville. Through the recent expansion, Greyhound Express now provides service to nearly 70 key markets across North America and has seen a 21% increase in overall ridership since its introduction in December 2010. With more than 2.2 million customers using the service as of April 2012, Greyhound Express now offers 700 direct-service intercity pairs.
Additionally, stations along Greyhound Express routes allow travelers to connect to an established network of more than 3,800 Greyhound destinations.
Meanwhile, its subsidiary, BoltBus, which began in the Northeast in March 2008, has grown across the region, and as of May 2012, added services in the Pacific Northwest, connecting Seattle and Portland, as well as Vancouver.
“We’ve seen great success with the implementation of both of our services,” says Stokes. “With BoltBus, for example, we’ve had schedules sell out a day after we announced tickets were on sale.”[PAGEBREAK]
Success and market
Stokes adds the quicker trip times that intercity bus services have traditionally been known for are a major reason for the growing popularity of these services.
“Both services usually only have one or two stops, compared to the more traditional 10 to 15 stops,” he explains. “Usually, those stops are to allow passengers to stretch their legs or maybe get something to eat before continuing their trip.”
Moser says, that aside from quicker travel times, the key to Megabus’ success was listening to what non-typical users wanted and preferred.
“The first thing they said was they wanted the convenience of booking your ticket online at home, and knowing that once you buy that ticket, you’re guaranteed a seat,” he says.
In a traditional system, Moser explains, passengers would walk up to purchase a ticket for an outgoing bus for a certain time, but not be guaranteed a seat if the bus was full or didn’t have enough open seats when it made a stop at that station. The second interesting point Megabus found from non-typical users was that many didn’t feel safe at traditional bus stations, requesting stops at center city locations that were close to other types of transportation, such as rail systems and city buses.
Another huge key to express services’ success is the yield pricing strategy Megabus introduced when it launched in the U.S.
“It was a way to balance our passenger demand and move people who had the flexibility in their travel schedules to a non-traditional leisure travel day for a more affordable fare,” Moser says. “For those that had to travel on weekends, we offered a comparable fare to what it would be to drive. The strategy was totally unique and different.”
Passengers using all three express-type services can now purchase tickets for as little as $1 and as much as approximately $30.
Several studies have found that intercity bus travel has grown significantly since 2007, after being in decline for more than 35 years, with express services proving to be a huge catalyst. One study, conducted by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, found that Megabus and Bolt Bus were making a significant impact in the Northeast.
“In the East, curbside bus service is taking a particularly large number of travelers from passenger trains,” the report concluded. “More than a third of those surveyed report that they would have ridden trains had curbside buses not been available.”
The report also found that the largest users of the services were aged 18 to 25, with both Megabus and Greyhound reporting that their services have been successful with the technology-savvy, regardless of age.
“When we first launched Bolt Bus, we were able to tell that our passengers were looking for a good deal and were booking their trips using technology, such as smartphones,” explains Stokes. “We have seen that a lot of our passengers for these express services are younger or business professionals that are tech savvy.”
Moser adds that Megabus’ largest demographic is aged 18 to 30.
“Whether they are in college or out in the workforce, they are looking to spread their dollar and be able to do things more affordably,” he says.
To continue appealing to the more tech-savvy, all three services market almost exclusively on the Web.
“We do everything from social networks to blogs to email blasts,” says Moser. “We’re out there with travel groups and growing our business with a bunch of strategic Internet partners that get our brand out there.”
Moser also says that women make up about 54% of their passengers, with females aged 30 to 55 being their second largest demographic.
“They feel comfortable, they feel safe and it’s affordable,” he says about the growth of the female demographic. “They no longer have to worry about driving to and from these major cities or driving in these cities they may not feel comfortable in.”
One demographic that reaps the benefits of express services’ low pricing are the so-called “silver surfers,” or Baby Boomers, who have flexibility in their schedules to travel mid-week and are often on a fixed income, according to both Stokes and Moser.[PAGEBREAK]
The last biggest demographic utilizing express services are commuters in certain city pairs, including Seattle-to-Portland and Boston-to-New York City. A big factor in that growth includes some of the amenities that enable passengers to stay connected while they travel.
“They wanted a different way of travel, and we are able to provide that with amenities such as Wi-Fi and power plug-ins,” says Stokes.
“It’s certainly more affordable, but they also get to use that whole time cleaning up email or interacting with people via the Internet and doing some business while they are traveling, so by the time they get to their destination, they aren’t already behind the day when it comes to their workload,” says Moser. “So, there is some value added to our services, as opposed to even flying.”
All express services have distinctive late-model livery featuring the aforementioned interconnectivity capabilities, as well as extra legroom and the latest in safety technology.
BoltBus’ vehicles include D4505s from Motor Coach Industries (MCI), which feature clean-diesel Cummins engines and Allison transmissions along with custom seats equipped with three-point seat belts. The vehicles also include standard features such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, automatic traction control and SmartWave tire pressure monitoring.
Meanwhile, Greyhound Express uses updated Prevost X3-45s equipped with safety features, including Prevost AWARE, which includes adaptive cruise braking, following distance alerts and stationary object alerts, providing timely information to the driver and encouraging good driving habits.
Other Prevost safety features include the Prevost Electronic Stability Program, Beru tire pressure monitoring systems and automatic fire suppression systems.
Moser explains MegaBus’ fleet includes all the latest safety and environmental technology. The operation has also added double-deck coaches to both increase capacity and decrease its environmental impact.
MegaBus’ Van Hool TD925, features Cummins ISM engines and ZF 12-speed Astronic transmissions, with safety equipment including three-point seat belts, SmarTire monitoring, Kidde fire suppression systems, an upper deck monitoring camera and a Saucon GPS system.
In February, Megabus announced the launch of its new Megabus USA mobile application. Passengers can use the free app to determine the estimated time of arrival for their bus and find bus stop locations. The app is the first of its kind in the intercity bus industry, according to the company.
The app — the only official megabus.com application — is available for iOS and Android platforms. Once downloaded, users can input their origin and destination cities and the times they are traveling to confirm what time their bus will arrive.
“Megabus.com is always looking for ways to better serve our customers, and this mobile app is a great tool for our passengers and our company,” says Moser.
Additionally, Greyhound Express is set to launch their app in the very near future.