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Who Rides Curbside Buses? A Passengers Survey of Discount Curbside Bus Services in Six Eastern and Midwestern Cities

August 4, 2011 Comments off

Who Rides Curbside Buses? A Passengers Survey of Discount Curbside Bus Services in Six Eastern and Midwestern Cities (PDF)
Source: DePaul University (Chaddick Institute)

This study summarizes the results of a survey of passengers using “curbside” bus lines such as BoltBus and Megabus.com (“Megabus”) in order to foster a greater understanding of the composition and preferences of the travelers these companies serve. This survey, to our knowledge, marks the first systematic attempt to evaluate the ridership of these discount operators and explore the changes in travel behavior engendered by their services. In addition to identifying some of the characteristics of the passengers served on these intercity carriers, this report compares these characteristics with passengers using conventional bus lines such as Greyhound.

The timing for this report is notable due to the rapid expansion by BoltBus and Megabus as well as a rising visibility of smaller operators such as DC2NY Bus in recent years. These carriers are making curbside service an increasingly significant force in cities in the East and Midwest and providing a new travel option to millions of consumers. Since Megabus launched its Chicago hub in 2006, followed by a major expansion along with that of rival BoltBus in the New York region during 2008, the sector has grown to more than 400 daily bus operations serving 60 cities in 17 states.

Curbside bus companies have attracted publicity for their steeply discounted fares, free wireless internet, and express services on routes that had seen little new service in decades. Although some routes had already seen the entry of so-called “Chinatown Operators”—bus lines, typically operated by Asian-owned businesses, between the Chinatown districts of major cities—other routes filled a void that had left travelers with few options besides private automobile. Unlike conventional operators such as Greyhound and Trailways, curbside operators generally arrive and depart from designated curb locations along city streets, typically near the center of town. Another key difference between the curbside carriers and traditional bus lines is the absence of ticket counters (curbside operators rely almost entirely on online ticket sales) and waiting rooms at departure locations.

The sector’s robust growth comes in the wake of more than forty years of retrenchment in the intercity bus sector. Starting in the late 1950s and continuing until the early 2000s, the sagging image of bus travel, the rising availability of private automobiles and low-fare air services, and the deterioration of downtown districts took their toll. By the 1990s, many middle- and upper-income consumers considered the intercity bus a mode of last resort. Even after the terrorist acts of 9/11, which made air travel less convenient, the intercity bus continued its slump. Only recently, on account of the emergence and expansion of curbside operators and a general recovery at Greyhound and other conventional lines, has a genuine turnaround occurred.

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