When five independently owned motorcoach companies became the founders of the National Trailways Bus System in Chicago on February 5, 1936, they were looking ahead at a changing transportation industry in which they could thrive through teamwork rather than struggling individually during a Great Depression.
With that same attitude of teamwork, fierce independence, and focus on the future, today’s Trailways Transportation System Inc., has selected the theme “This Is Moving Forward” for its 85th Annual Meeting and Conference on February 17.
Instead of gathering in Palm Springs, Calif., as originally planned, representatives of member companies will meet virtually, eager to put behind them the Great Pandemic that has hit especially hard the travel and transportation industries that Trailways serves. The pandemic-driven reduction in travel for sightseeing, vacations, entertainment, and other pleasure trips has slashed ridership for some members as much as 90%.
As in earlier times of national crisis, Trailways operators have moved to meet the challenge. They’ve been transporting essential workers, military personnel, and those schoolchildren still learning in classrooms. They’ve brought relief and reinforcements to the sites of natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. They’ve made charter trips for sports teams still playing with pandemic precautions.
“This is one of the most critical times in Trailways history; and Trailways has taken a bold step to innovate, to prepare for the rebound and to support our members during this difficult time,” said Patrick Dean, Trailways chairman of the board and VP of Dean Trailways in Lansing, Mich. “Our vision is that with a challenge like this, there is an opportunity. We’ve used this time to provide better service for our customers and to be there when they’re ready to come back to travel. We’ll greet them with a smile and great service and tell them how much we appreciate their loyalty to Trailways.”
“We’ve invested a lot of resources during this current pandemic to meet our customers where they’re at now, which is online,” Dean explained. On June 27, 2019, Trailways established a wholly owned subsidiary, Trailways Ticketing & Marketing LLC, which is doing business as Trailways.com. This Web platform lets customers purchase tickets online, request quotes for charter trips and bus rentals, and purchase trip packages to featured destinations. It has additional consumer-oriented features, including a 'Driven Rewards' loyalty program for frequent Trailways travelers. During the coronavirus pandemic, Trailways began offering touch free boarding nationwide with its new mobile boarding “ticket delivery option.”
Spearheading formation of the new subsidiary are these member companies that offer both scheduled-route and charter-and-tour transportation: Adirondack, Pine Hill, and New York Trailways of Hurley, N.Y.; Burlington Trailways of West Burlington, Iowa; Fullington Trailways of Clearfield, Pa.; and Martz Trailways of Wilkes-Barre, Pa, and Richmond, Va.
The National Trailways Travel Bureau, launched in 1942, secured one of the first tour broker permits issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission. After Trailways invited passengers to “see America at scenery level” in the 1950s, Continental Trailways in the next two decades offered innovative, “five-star luxury services” with uniformed hostesses serving food and beverages from galleys in observation lounges aboard the famous Golden Eagle motorcoaches, specially designed for long-distance travel comfort.
Trailways later became one of the earliest adopters of global positioning system (GPS) devices as a safety feature on its member company vehicles.
Burlington Transportation Company and the Frank Martz Coach Company were two of the original members that founded the Trailways system in 1936. The others were Missouri Pacific Stages, Santa Fe Trails Transportation Company and Safeway Lines Inc. Three of the founders — Burlington, Missouri Pacific Stages, and Santa Fe Trails — were affiliated with railroads and served routes in Western states. The other two, Martz and Safeway, had Eastern routes. All five were independent, scheduled-route motorcoach operators who banded together primarily to compete with industry consolidators, especially Greyhound.
Since Trailways opened its membership in 1997 to independently owned charter-and-tour companies without scheduled routes, the majority of Trailways transportation members now offer charters and tours exclusively across the continental U.S., plus Canada and parts of Europe. They are required to meet the same high standards as the scheduled-route members.
Today’s Trailways welcomes members in all modes of transportation: air, rail, ground, and sea. It also has associate members, called affiliated partners, that offer products, programs, and services to transportation members. It has affiliate members that work to preserve, aid, and advance the transportation industry as well as industry members that have a vested interest in travel and transportation. Among these membership categories are firms such as coach manufacturers, parts and technology suppliers, travel brokers, insurance and personnel agencies, cruise lines, hotels and resorts, and destination venues.
At 85 years young, Trailways continues to survive by being not only in the transportation business but also in the transformation business. It keeps embracing change to address emerging customer needs and wants.
“Trailways carriers have always been committed to their customers and employees and making sure we’re connecting people to their destinations, wherever they may be going,” Dean said. “A lot of times, people are going on exciting trips or travel, and we get to be a small part of that. We’re making sure that we honor quality and safety and service.”