High gas prices boost bus travel
After decades of decline, bus travel is on the rise again. But is it right for you?
(Page 2 of 4)
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.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
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.
To go any distance the bus is certainly cost-effective, financially. For longer journeys – coast-to-coast, for example – prices can be found around $180-200, almost half of the average east-west airplane fare.
The psychic cost may be steeper, however.
Cross-country bus trips can be grueling. They are costly in terms of time (up to three days). Such journeys may also define sleep deprivation. Riders are awakened and told to disembark every two to four hours. Transfers to connecting shuttles, driver changes, cleaning time, and rest breaks become the routine.
For those pushing the 50-hour, 60-hour, even 90-hour mark, including delays, the demand simply to remain coherent can absorb all one’s energy. Passengers may feel at times that they are being treated like cattle; nevertheless, order and discipline are required to keep to a schedule.
Short trips, including overnight, are worth it for most people. But there is a degree of stamina and determination required when it comes to the second day or third morning. At that point your destination may still be far away, in hours and in your priorities, and you may begin to question the necessity of it all. (This writer speaks from recent and extensive experience – numerous cross-country bus trips and frequent day journeys in the Northeast.)
Longtime passengers have noticed a changing clientele. Amy Cogan, a 20-something who has traveled between Boston and New York by bus for a decade, says more young people and business types – the “train crowd,” as she describes them – have appeared on her bus.
Bus personnel have also noticed the shift. Byron G., a veteran of the Greyhound operations staff in the Washington, D.C., bus terminal, says passengers have “definitely become more diverse” in the last 10 years.
“I see more yuppies coming through,” Byron says, declining to give his full name because he is not an official Greyhound spokesman. “More young people, more economically advantaged people, you might say.”
Eighteen years ago, Greyhound and its competitors were embroiled in bankruptcy, stalled by years of labor strikes and going nowhere fast.
Older, less-trafficked bus stations (in this writer’s experience) may still feature a lone security guard at night overseeing throngs of weary travelers while trying to police the entrance, where peddlers, homeless people, and suspicious characters may set up shop at night.