DePaul Study: First-class intercity bus services are driving ground travel in new directions

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First-class seating and service, which has long been a part of commercial aviation, is becoming a focal point for intercity bus travel after the pandemic, according to a new report from DePaul University. Bus lines with premium offers are changing the image of an industry long known for historic brands such as Greyhound and Trailways. In the Northeast, Texas and Virginia, new services launching in 2021 offer amenities rarely seen on conventional buses, such as on-board attendants, generously reclining seats, and snack and beverage service. New “share-sharing” deals in which bus and air connections are sold on a single ticket could change the face of long-distance bus travel yet again.

“New businesses and first-class services are bright spots for an industry that has been devastated by the pandemic,” noted Joe Schwieterman, DePaul Professor and co-author of “Routes to Recovery: 2022 Outlook for the Intercity Bus Industry. “. “Out of tough times has come a surprising burst of innovation.”

This includes the launch of The Jet, which rolled out premium twice-daily service between New York’s Hudson Yards and Washington, DC’s Metro Center in November. With only 14 seats (in a 2-1 configuration) on its full-size coaches and an onboard attendant serving light snacks and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, The Jet seeks to attract both Amtrak passengers and frequent flyers. . Unlike other first and business class offerings, The Jet offers the “HoverSeat”, a custom-designed seat equipped with Bose suspension technology, which is said to “block 90% of the bumps and movements of the ride by bus”. Coupled with an improved air filtration system (apparently like those used in ambulances) and improved WiFi, the Jet seeks to add new comforts to the ground travel experience. Fares are usually between $99 and $149, less than half the cost of walk-in airline tickets and Acela tickets from Amtrak.

Another new premium brand serving the Washington, DC area, Rapid Overland Express, relaunched its premium express service between Virginia Beach and Pentagon City, Virginia in July, also with an onboard attendant. Passengers travel in luxury 22-seat coaches and enjoy catered meals during breakfast and lunch, served by an attendant. “ROX” offered four trips per week after the restart of the service (which began in 2020), with trips four times a week. ROX has also experimented with the route from Virginia Beach to Charlottesville, Va., which could return during peak season.

Last fall, RedCoach, which has long offered premium deals in Florida, launched first-class and business-class service in the Texas Triangle, connecting Austin, Dallas and Houston, with stops en route in Waco and College Station. Its first class coaches have only 27 seats and its business class coaches have 38, providing customers with more space than the 50+ seats offered by many conventional services. Its custom seats offer spacious legroom and bed-like seats that recline up to 140 degrees (50 degrees from an upright position). Guests also get free snacks. RedCoach operates from a curbside location next to the Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas.

Less luxurious but equally worthwhile is a major expansion of Landline, which seeks to move travelers away from uneconomical short flights and into coaches. Last year, Landline entered into a partnership with United Airlines that allows direct ticketing through Denver International Airport (DIA). Service includes four daily buses in each direction from DIA to Fort Collins, Colorado Regional Airport and one daily round trip from Breckenridge, Colorado. Customers can book tickets that involve connecting coaches and flights both on the airline’s website and on other airlines. – ticketing platforms. Schwieterman sees the concept as a “game changer” for the US travel market, which has been slow to improve intermodal connections.

The Landline/United partnership offers travelers protected connections, so if a bus or flight is late, the passenger will be accommodated in the same way as missing connections. Passengers board coaches leaving DIA through a door behind security (airside), just like those catching other flights, while those arriving at DIA are dropped off on the ground side and must pass through security. Landline also has a major operation in Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in partnership with Sun Country Airlines.

The expanding network of premium bus operators includes the return of business class services available before the pandemic, including Vamoose Gold and Tripper Elite in the Northeast Corridor and Vonlane in Texas (as well as on its relatively new Dallas route – Oklahoma City). C&J Bus Lines, Concord Coach and Dartmouth Coach have restarted their business class service between northern New England and New York, which offers more legroom and onboard snacks.

Such an expansion raises an important question: will the big players like Greyhound, FlixBus and Megabus get in on the action by creating their own premium services? Megabus seems content, at least for now, to offer non-luxury perks, although Allison Woodward, co-author of the study, notes that its “reserved seating and a sophisticated bus tracker add to the attractiveness of its service.” Last year, growing FlixBus tested a premium service on the Los Angeles-Las Vegas route marketed as “FlixPlus” that offers more legroom and free snack and drink service served by an attendant.It’s unclear if FlixBus will permanently upgrade to premium service.

The study team expects more service deployments this year.

“There are still no premium services routinely available in California, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, or between downtown Boston and New York,” noted Schwieterman, who considers those markets “ripe for gathering”.

Intercity bus travel is expected to continue to rebound strongly through 2023, so he expects the bus industry’s spirit of innovation to continue. The Chaddick Institute will host a free one-hour webinar on the study at noon CT on Thursday, April 14, 2022. To register or contact the study team, email [email protected]

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