High gas prices boost bus travel
After decades of decline, bus travel is on the rise again. But is it right for you?
The old silver dog is back, and it may have learned a few new tricks. After 40 years of steady decline, the nation’s bus network is reviving.Skip to next paragraph
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Persistent, sobering economic news is a major factor in the regeneration, as oil prices hover around $130 a barrel. But transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman identifies another aspect: What’s good for the green in your wallet also promotes green living.
He says the bus industry is being buoyed by high gas prices and that “a new brand of bus operator is emerging who point to their services as being the environmentally friendly travel choice…. People are starting to feel good about stepping aboard a bus. Many see it as a socially responsible way to go.”
The tipping point came in early 2006. After decades of steady decline, the nation’s intercity bus systems have grown by 13 percent in the last two years, according to a study by Mr. Schwieterman, who’s at DePaul University’s School of Public Service in Chicago.
Between 1960 and 1980, the study found, intercity bus service fell by one-third. More than half the remaining service was gone by 2006. But then prices at the pump, crowded highways, frustration with congested airports, and high air fares prompted travelers to rediscover mass transit. By late 2007, intercity bus service was experiencing “a significant rebirth,” the study says.
Megabus, a low-cost service operating in the Midwest and Northeast, was the first to jump on the green bandwagon. For a few months at the beginning of this year, it gave away 100,000 bus tickets in order to “increase awareness about reducing carbon emissions by encouraging bus travel,” said Dale Moser, CEO of Stagecoach Group, which owns Megabus.
According to Megabus, one coach filled to capacity – effectively taking 56 cars off the road – means 3,850 fewer pounds of carbon emissions for every 100 miles traveled, compared with the emissions of 56 cars traveling the same distance
So if 100,000 travelers fill 1,786 buses, it reduces CO2 emissions by a massive 6.9 million pounds for every 100 miles traveled.
Putting it another way, Mr. Moser says: “The fuel used on a Megabus double-decker driving from New York to Washington, D.C., amounts to 0.5 gallons of gas per passenger. Compare that to four people traveling by car for the same distance, where it’s 2.75 gallons per passenger.
“And seriously,” Moser continues, “how often do you see four people riding in a car? More likely it’s just one passenger. What’s clear is the bus is much greener, by far.”
As riders return, the old stigma of bus travel is evaporating, too. “Just 10 years ago, affluent travelers saw the bus as the last resort, a sign of desperation,” says Schwieterman.
To questions about a shifting clientele, Greyhound spokesman Eric Wesley diplomatically states that Greyhound carries people from “all walks of life.” This is hard to dispute; the bus doesn’t turn many people away. If one passenger is leaving his $40,000 SUV at home to save money on gasoline, his seatmate may well lack shoelaces and carry his possessions in smiley-face plastic bags from Wal-Mart.
As bus companies welcome an influx of new and returning customers, they are reclaiming respectability. Greyhound has spent $60 million refurbishing its 1,250-strong fleet and its largest terminals. The iconic service leads other bus companies by a wide margin: It racked up nearly 5.8 billion passenger miles last year, transporting nearly 25 million people among its 2,200 terminals nationwide.
Investments in new, more comfortable, amenity-laden coaches with Wi-Fi connection and on-board movies ensure that patrons won’t leave the comforts of modern living behind.