Out of Control Policy Blog

Back to the Intercity Bus

The Washington Post has a revealing report on the rise of intercity bus lines on the East Coast. In just a few years, perhaps as many as a dozen bus lines have started up as riders take advantage of reliable service and low costs.

"Between 2005 and 2007, according to the American Bus Association, nationwide ridership surged by 20 percent, increasing from 631 million passenger trips to 751 million. "We move about the same numbers as domestic [air] carriers each year," said ABA spokesman Eron Shosteck, a bus rider himself, "and more people in two weeks than Amtrak does all year."

"As Shosteck put it, "This is Transportation 2.0."

Bus companies include Greyhound, Megabus, Bolt, Hola, Chinatown, Tripper Bus, Double Happiness and others. The "pioneer" was Fung Wa bus line which ferried immigrant Chinese workers and students between Chinatowns in Boston and New York in the late 1990s. Now, the cheap fares (plus high gas prices) have given intercity bus service a new lease on life.

"Credit [for the intercity bus line growth] goes mainly to the new convoy of buses, which appropriated the [low cost budget] Chinatown model, then gave it a substantial upgrade. This new species offers curbside pickup and drop-offs, cheap fares, clean restrooms, express service, online reservations, free WiFi and loyalty programs. Neither Amtrak, currently exploring WiFi service on trains, nor my car can make such declarations.

"The bus fares undercut Amtrak and, depending on the number of passengers, personal vehicles. One-way fares on the train start at $49, compared with $1 to $30 on the bus. As for my car, Townsend determined that gas for my make and model would add up to $43.78, plus about $20 for tolls. The buses also earn hugs from carbon-emission watchers. According to such experts as Schwieterman and the ABA, one bus can potentially eliminate 55 cars from the road. The Union of Concerned Scientists' "Getting There Greener" guide notes that a couple can halve their carbon output by taking the bus and leaving their hybrid car in the garage."

Of course, this is the same corridor that already has extensive intercity rail, including "high speed" rail in the form of the Acela trains. Yet, bus lines are growing and becoming more competitive with each other, and consumers benefit as a result.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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