Posts Tagged ‘intercity bus travel’

Pandemic Has Depressed Bus Ridership, Too

December 26, 2020

Airlines and rail passenger travel have not been the only modes of transportation to see devastating plunges in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nation’s intercity bus network has suffered a corresponding decline with ridership falling by more than 80 percent.

Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, said the industry is operating at about 10 percent of capacity.

He estimated that 85 percent of the 100,000 people who work in the bus industry have been laid off or furloughed since last March.

Greyhound bus lines, one of the nation’s largest bus operators, is operating less than half of its normal bus routes and has seen its revenue fall by nearly 60 percent.

In a statement, the venerable bus company said it has imposed temporary and permanent route closures and laid off workers.

“Our ability to provide critical service to communities—especially those that are underserved and/or rural—has been reduced,” the statement said.

Officials at Wanderu, a travel website, said that unlike airlines bus companies did not get much boost from the Thanksgiving travel period.

Industry observers say few people are interested in riding buses because it means spending hours with strangers in tightly enclosed spaces.

This could prove to be trouble for an industry that operates on thinner profit margins and has less financial cushion to weather the pandemic than the major airlines.

Even commuter bus services have suffered because many workers who once took a bus from their suburban homes to work are now working from home.

Also losing business have been companies that offer rides to major events, including concerts and sporting contests.

They’ve had to park their buses and lay off staff because the pandemic has all but wiped out the events that gave them business, including ferrying touring musicians.

Those who do ride the bus these days are facing higher fares. The U.S. Department of Labor said intercity bus fares last month rose 18 percent.

Bus travel is still less than other transportation modes, but given that much of bus ridership tends to be lower income patrons that could cause a hardship for some.

“This is a mode of travel that caters to people often who can’t afford cars — that need to go at the least possible cost from point A to point B,” said Joe Schweiterman, a professor in the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. “If prices jump, it might be out of reach.”

Greyhound is Back in Akron, But Finding Where it Goes From There Wasn’t Easy or Convenient

July 12, 2020

Back in early April I wrote a post about how Greyhound Bus Lines had suspended service to Akron during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I decided last week to check if Greyhound had reinstated its Akron service.

It has but I was unable to determine when that occurred. A Google search for news stories about Greyhound reinstating suspended routes came up largely empty.

Unlike Amtrak and the airlines, the intercity bus industry gets little news attention in the United States.

I went to Greyhound’s website where my experience in finding out information about service to Akron was mixed.

The site, unlike Amtrak and the major airlines, lacks a page containing news releases or service advisories. In fact there is virtually little information about the company at all.

I found no route map or route timetables. If you are curious as to what cities Greyhound directly links from Akron you have to literally plug in various city pairs.

It took some digging to piece together a general idea of where Greyhound can take you from Akron without having having to make a transfer.

I started by checking the obvious cities of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati and Chicago.

Greyhound has direct bus service to all of those places plus Youngstown; Canton; Erie, Pennsylvania; Buffalo, New York; Washington; Baltimore and a handful of other cities and towns in Ohio and surrounding states.

But there are no direct buses to Detroit, New York or Indianapolis. You can get to those cities but must transfer en route.

Taking Greyhound service out of Akron is not quite as inconvenient as taking Amtrak from Cleveland. Buses leave Akron throughout the day, but some destinations require boarding or disembarking in Akron in the middle of the night.

For example, there is just one bus each way per day between Akron and Pittsburgh. It arrives in Akron from Pittsburgh at 2:55 a.m. and departs for the burgh at 11:15 p.m.

Traveling from Akron to Chicago makes for a long day. One bus leaves at 3:05 a.m. and reaches Chicago at 12:10 p.m. traveling via Cleveland, Toledo and South Bend, Indiana.

Another bus leaves at a more reasonable 12:10 p.m. but takes a roundabout path through Columbus, Marysville, Lima, Van Wert, Fort Wayne and South Bend before reaching Chicago at 9:25 p.m.

There are two buses a day to Columbus, one of which continues to Cincinnati. The route to Columbus goes west from Akron on Interstate 76 and picks up I-71 near Lodi.

I never determined where the three buses that leave Akron for Canton wind up. One bus goes as far as Charleston, West Virginia; while another goes at least as far as Athens, Ohio.

Both routes might extend beyond those cities but it would take a lot of trial and error to find out where they go.

The Akron-Pittsburgh service is part of a Chicago-Washington route. Just like Amtrak’s Capitol Limited, Northeast Ohio is served in the wee hours.

I could have more easily learned that if there had been an online timetable easily found on the Greyhound website.

There was a time when transportation companies printed and regularly distributed timetables for their routes.

The airline industry gave up on timetables more than two decades ago although Southwest Airlines was holdout for awhile.

Amtrak published its last system timetable in 2016, a copy of which I keep handy on my desk for reference because the carrier’s schedules haven’t changed much since then.

It subsequently did away with printed route timetables and route guides and during the pandemic stopped making route timetables available online.

It remains to be seen if this is temporary or permanent. The official reason given for dropping the online timetables is because services changed and continue to change during the pandemic as trains are suspended, reinstated and, who knows, suspended again or see their frequency of operation reduced.

The transportation industry appears to think that all most people care about is whether it is possible to go from point A to point B on the plane, train or bus.

You can find that out by typing into a box your point of origin and typing into another box your destination. If the carrier can get you there then the pertinent information is shown.

Carriers seem increasingly less interested in giving the public a comprehensive view of where they go and how they get there.

I noticed that on the Greyhound site if you want more detailed information about your route, including all of the intermediate stops, you need to click on a link to find it.

Transportation is in and will continue to be in a state of flux so long as the pandemic continues to depress demand and planes, trains and buses operate at lower levels than was the case in early March before the pandemic took hold.

Yet I can’t help but wonder if the pastime of some transportation enthusiasts of perusing timetables and taking “mind trips” is becoming yet another thing of the past.

I might have to be content to practice this with old timetables that show where you used to be able to fly or take a train.

Greyhound Suspends Bus Service to Akron

April 3, 2020

Greyhound bus lines has suspended service to Akron and several other Ohio cities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A service alert posted on the company’s website said the service suspensions are due to a drop in demand, particularly in the Northeast.

The notice did not say when the suspensions became effective, but a check for service from Akron found no service available.

Greyhound is continuing to operate between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus.

Among the other cities at which service has been suspended in Ohio and surrounding states are Ashtabula, Battle Creek (Michigan), Burns Harbor (Indiana), Lima, Mansfield, Morgantown (West Virginia), West Salem (Ohio) and Youngstown.

Bus stations have been temporarily closed in several cities but will continue to operate as bus stops for pick up and drop off:

Tickets from these locations must be purchased online at, on the Greyhound mobile app or at a full service location.

No stations in Ohio still with service have been closed but those in surrounding states that are affected include: Allentown, Pennsylvania; Beckley, West Virginia; Bowling Green, Kentucky; East Lansing, Michigan; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Lansing, Michigan; London, Kentucky; Muskegon, Michigan; and Southfield, Michigan.

A number of other bus companies have also suspended service during the pandemic including Fullington Trailways in Pennsylvania and Megabus to New York City.

German Bus Company to Enter U.S. Market

November 16, 2017

A German long-distance bus company says it plans to begin service in the United States in competition with Greyhound, Megabus and Amtrak.

FlixBus said it will be based in Los Angeles.

“There is a significant shift in the American transport market at the moment. Public transportation and sustainable travel is becoming more important,” FlixBus founder and manager Andre Schwaemmlein said in a statement.

FlixBus has been a major player in European long-distance bus service since 2013 and has survived a fierce price war among new market entrants to boost its market share in Germany.

A Reuters news service story said FlixBus has more than 90 percent market share and its bright green motor coaches are a common sight on German roads.

FlixBus does not own any of its buses but instead works with local and regional partners.

That is similar to how Megabus operates in the United States. Owned by Britain’s Stagecoach Group, Megabus began U.S. service in 2006.

One of its chief competitors, Greyhound, is owned by a British company, FirstGroup PLC. Greyhound carries 18 million passengers a year with a fleet of 1,700 vehicles.

By contrast, Amtrak carried 31.3 million in fiscal year 2016. Figures are not yet available systemwide for FY 2017.

FlixBus did not say when it would begin service or what routes it would serve.

When Low Bus Fares Clash With Low Gasoline Prices, Place Your Money on Low Gas Winning

February 15, 2016

When it comes to riding the bus for a low fare versus driving your car when gasoline prices are low, the latter is going to win most of the time.

That was one of the takeaways from the recent news that Megabus has ended service between Cleveland and Columbus.

On TransportationNot only has Amtrak ridership suffered from falling gasoline prices over the past year, but so has a bus company that sells tickets for as low as $1.

Joseph Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago who studies intercity bus transportation, told The Plain Dealer that the intercity bus industry is contracting after several years of rapid growth.

“Gas prices are raining on the parade of bus companies in a big way,” Schwieterman said. “It’s surprising how quickly people change their habits when fuel is cheap.”

It was also surprising that Megabus passengers tend generally to be more affluent, younger and more likely to own cars.

So when gas prices drop, they are inclined to drive rather than take public transportation.

That is not necessarily good news for advocates of public transportation, particularly those who favor free enterprise rather than government intervention to meet transportation needs.

Why? Because it means that if you need to take public transportation as opposed to want to take public transportation then your ability to travel hinges on the whims of the market.

And the market seeks to make money, not provide a social service or assure uninterrupted access to public transportation.

The decline of intercity rail passenger service in the 1960s received a lot of publicity and ultimately led to the creation of Amtrak.

The intercity bus industry experienced a similar decline, which also began in the 1960s, but accelerated in 1982 after the deregulation of the intercity bus industry.

In 1982, there were 11,820 places in America where you could board an intercity bus. By 2008 that had fallen to 2,423, a 20 percent decline.

A 2014 paper published by the AARP cited U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation figures showing that 8.4 million rural residents lost access to intercity bus service between 2005 and 2010.

Megabus has never been a viable public transportation option in rural and small town America. Since starting service in April 2006, Megabus has operated much like an airline.

You won’t find Megabus stopping in small towns or even small cities unless they happen to have a large state university.

That is why the only place that Megabus serves in largely rural West Virginia is Morgantown, the home of West Virginia University. In Ohio, Megabus serves Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.

Megabus cited low ridership for ending its route linking Cleveland and Cincinnati.

But a Megabus spokesman told The Plain Dealer that the company had done well on the Cleveland-Columbus leg and might reinstate that service down the road.

In the meantime, Greyhound continues to serve the Cleveland-Columbus market, so those wishing or needing public transportation between the two cities still have it.

I am reminded of a report by the Interstate Commerce Commission of its investigation of plans by the Erie Lackawanna to discontinue a passenger train between Chicago and New York in the 1960s.

Although a number of people opposed the discontinuance, many of them had either never ridden the train or rode it infrequently.

That led the Commission to conclude that many who opposed ending the train wanted it as a standby service during, for example, inclement weather.

And for that they wanted the EL to continue losing money providing a service that few of them used.

It was true then and it remains true now. For all of the talk about the need for public transportation or even the desire for it, the private motor vehicle remains the first choice of most Americans so long as they can afford it.

It might seem that there are a lot of people wanting or willing to take public transportation between Cleveland and Columbus. There are, but so long as they see it as affordable most of them would rather drive than buy a low fare ticket on the bus.

End of Megabus Cleveland-Cincinnati Service Just Another in Long Line of Service Retrenchements

February 15, 2016

The news that Megabus in early January ended service linking Cleveland with Columbus and Cincinnati was not the first time that the cut-rate bus line has retrenched in the Cleveland market.

Back in March 2013 Cleveland was one of 10 Megabus hubs with service to 15 cities. You could have traveled to Atlanta; Pittsburgh; Akron; Buffalo, New York; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Detroit; Toledo; Chicago; New York; Columbus, Cincinnati; Lexington, Kentucky; Knoxville, Tennessee; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and State College, Pennsylvania.

MegabusBut now most of that service is gone. The only Megabus route left in Cleveland travels east to New York with an intermediate stop in State College and west to Chicago with an intermediate stop in Toledo.

Unlike Greyhound, which makes frequent stops on its routes, including in small towns, Megabus operates much like an airline with limited intermediate stops and relatively few cities served.

In Ohio, it serves Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo, linking all of those cities with Chicago.

The route from Columbus makes intermediate stops in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

Launched on April 10, 1996, as a brand of Coach USA/Coach Canada, Megabus offered low fares and curbside pickup rather than using brick and mortar bus stations. In some cities, Megabus stops outside railroad stations, transit centers or shopping centers.

The initial route network fanned out from Chicago and included service to Cleveland.

Four years later, the Megabus business model began making a transition from a hub and spoke orientation to a point-to-point model.

Also like airlines, Megabus uses yield management to set fares. Although it has attracted much attention with its $1 tickets, Megabus imposes a $1.50 per transaction fee for tickets purchased online. Tickets can also be purchased by phone, but cannot be bought from bus drivers.

Shortly after it began serving Cleveland, Megabus added a stop in Toledo on Sept. 11, 2006, to its route M3 between Chicago and Cleveland.

Megabus extended the route to Pittsburgh on April 2, 2007, but ended the Pittsburgh service that September due to low ridership.

Cleveland-Pittsburgh service resumed on May 2011 with a stop in Akron. Service was six roundtrips with connections in Pittsburgh to such eastern points as Washington, New York and Philadelphia. The Pittsburgh-Cleveland route continued west to Detroit via Toledo.

The Akron stop was dropped on March 13, 2012. However, the next day, Megabus began a route linking Cleveland with Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The high water mark of Megabus service in Cleveland came in August 2013 when it launched a route to Atlanta that included stops in Columbus, Cincinnati, Lexington, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

It took 15.5 hours to get to Atlanta and one of the two buses making the trip left Cleveland at 2:30 a.m.

At the same time, Megabus also launched service to Erie, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York.

The Cleveland Megabus stop was initially behind Tower City at West Third and Frankfort.  It also picked up passengers on the north side of Prospect Avenue.

On August 1, 2013, it began using the Cleveland RTA Stephanie Tubbs Jones Transit Center, at 2115 East 22nd St. That enabled passengers access to public transportation and to have a sheltered place to wait for the bus.

Megabus said it was handling 13,000 passengers a month in Cleveland. Some buses used in the service were operated by Cleveland-based Lakefront Lines.

Service to Ann Arbor, Detroit and Pittsburgh ended in May 2014. “Unfortunately due to insufficient ridership service, the Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit-Ann Arbor route was discontinued on May 6,” said Sean Hughes, associate director of corporate affairs for Coach USA/ North America, in an interview at the time with The Plain Dealer.

By then, service had also ended to Buffalo and Erie.

A check of the Megabus website revealed that the company favors large cities and large colleges.

In West Virginia, for example, the only city served by Megabus is Morgantown, the home of West Virginia University.

In Pennsylvania, Megabus serves Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and State College. The latter is the home of Penn State University.

In Michigan, you can catch Megabus out of Ann Arbor (home of the University of Michigan), East Lansing (home of Michigan State University) as well as Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Nonetheless, Megabus serves just one city in Indiana (Indianapolis) and one in Kentucky (Louisville).

Indiana is a curious situation given that the bus from Indy to Chicago goes up Interstate 65 right past Lafayette and West Lafayette, the latter the home of Purdue University.

The Plain Dealer article reporting Megabus was ending service from Cleveland to Columbus and Cincinnati said lower gasoline prices was a contributing factor because many of the company’s passengers are affluent enough to own a car.

High gasoline prices and air travel hassles had just a few years earlier fueled a rise in intercity bus ridership.

A study by the Chaddick Institute of Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago said the rise of discount city-to-city bus carriers had accounted for much of the increased ridership.

The head of the Chaddick Institute, Joseph Schwieterman, told The Plain Dealer in 2014 that for Megabus to leave the Cleveland-Pittsburgh market meant “Demand must have been intolerably weak.”

“Megabus doesn’t pull out of many markets,” said Schwieterman, a professor of public service management.

The Chaddick study found that the emergence of Megabus and other low-cost carriers had prompted Greyhound to upgrade its buses and emulate their business models.

GreyhoundYet there remain many key differences between passengers who ride Greyhound versus those who ride the so-called curbside bus lines.

Greyhound passengers are 39.8 percent female versus 52.3 percent female on the curbside carriers.

On Greyhound, 36.1 percent of the passengers are ages 18 to 25 compared with 47.8 percent on curbside carriers. Business is the purpose of 23.5 percent of those on Greyhound compared with 16.4 percent of those on curbside carriers.

An overwhelming percent of passengers on both types of carriers said they planned to use computers or mobile devices during their trip, 84.9 percent on Greyhound and 91.3 percent on curbside carriers.

Megabus has been in and out of markets before and every time it pulls out, it says it might come back.

In an interview with The Plain Dealder, Mike Alvich, vice president of marketing and public relations for Megabus said the company continually assesses its routes.

“There are no guarantees,” he said. “We are a private business. We live or die based on ticket sales. We start routes based on our best research. Sales have to support operational costs. That’s one of the city pairs that did not work for us. But that doesn’t meant we won’t come back.”

Megabus dropped California service in 2008 and returned in 2013.

Schwieterman said Megabus has done best in heavily urbanized areas, between cities that are between three and six hours apart, and in places where parking is scarce and expensive.

“The Cleveland to Pittsburgh route might have been a little short to lure people out of their cars,” he said. And both cities are automobile-oriented towns.

Greyhound in 2010 launched its “Greyhound Express,” offering nonstop service between urban centers, guaranteed seating and such on-bus amenities as wireless Internet access and electrical outlets.

A visit to the Greyhound website leaves the unmistakable impression that this isn’t your grandfather’s bus company.

Nonetheless, Greyhound continues to have the image of being the transportation choice of last resort for travelers who cannot afford alternatives even if the number of small towns served by Greyhound has greatly diminished over the past three decades.

Megabus has a younger, more affluent clientele than Greyhound but Schwieterman said the differences between the two companies “are becoming more blurred all the time.”

Although Schwieterman said in that 2014 interview that the growth years of bus travel were behind the industry, “plenty of travelers are still discovering the bus. And millions of travelers have yet to discover the bus.”