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Hitchin’ a Ride: New Study Highlights Perks of Intercity Bus Travel

Buses don't get nearly the level of love from business travelers as planes or trains, but according to a new study, the cost advantages of intercity bus travel shouldn't be ignored.

A bus ride obviously won’t get you from San Jose to Maui, but depending on the distance, it could save landlocked conference travelers a bundle.

That’s the finding of a new study by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute, which reported that the quality of bus travel has been improving in recent years, while the cost remains low compared to other forms of travel.

“It’s a … mode of travel that’s really shaking things up,” Joseph Schwieterman, the director of the institute, told USA Today. “The ability to hop on a bus for half the price of the next cheapest option is a game changer.”

According to “The Traveler’s Tradeoff: Comparing Intercity Bus, Plane, and Train Fares across the United States” [PDF], intercity bus travelers pay roughly half as much as do riders on comparable Amtrak routes. (Train prices themselves are 55 percent to 73 percent below airfare prices.)

While the reach of bus travel is limited—the study notes the savings decline for both buses and trains when trips are longer than 250 miles—the lower price tag on an intercity bus trip can prove particularly enticing in certain areas of the country, such as the Northeast corridor.

And if you’re addicted to comparing fares, there’s even a bus-focused startup for that: Wanderu.

A Growing Space

The fares remain low, but the industry is reaching new heights. This month, a leading company in the space, MegaBus, announced that it had served 35 million passengers nationwide. The company made half as many trips each day [PDF] as its largest competitor, Greyhound Lines, but its model has proved influential despite its smaller size.

MegaBus, with fares that start as low as $1 per trip, helped change the industry by adding such amenities as wireless internet and power outlets. Since it launched in 2006, the company’s approach has been widely mimicked, including by Greyhound, which launched the similar BoltBus line in 2008.

(Greyhound itself has improved the quality of its bus lines in recent years, partly due to the new competition.)

That said, the industry hasn’t been without its knocks. In 2013, a popular Chinatown bus company, Fung Wah, was forced to shut down over safety violations. The move followed a series of shutdowns of other providers, though questions have arisen about the credibility of recent safety studies.

Could it Work For Business Travelers?

Depending on the location, it could. In Florida, for example, the premium RedCoach line has gained a foothold by offering high-quality seating, along with first-class offerings, for a fraction of the price of flying.

Speaking to USA Today, RedCoach Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Florencia Cirigliano noted that even flying within the state can be costly, making bus travel a reasonable alternative for business folks, who make up 30 percent of the company’s customers.

“You can sleep on the bus … and if you’re a lawyer with billable hours, you can work there,” Cirigliano said. “There’s a lot of things you can do instead of being stuck in a car or paying that much to fly to Tallahassee.”

Passengers board a BoltBus in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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