Menus Subscribe Search

A Different Meaning for Missing the Bus

• September 15, 2009 • 2:00 PM

Intercity bus service is on the rebound in the U.S. thanks to some spiffy new competitors, but only half the country has gotten on board so far.

The gleaming, brightly painted bus pulls up to the intersection between 34th and 7th, and suddenly a line of 50 people on the sidewalk mobilizes. Up the steps, a host of spacious leather seats awaits, ready for riders to plop down, plug in and get online. College students flip open laptops to Twitter their impending departure. A young man in a suit and pink tie browses through his e-mail. The conductor rises to announce the next and only stop — their destination.

Welcome to the new cheap bus.

From Greyhound to the infamous New York Chinatown lines, buses have always been considered the slowest, dirtiest and — let’s face it — sketchiest way to travel. But in the last year, East Coast cities have witnessed the rise of a slew of new, revamped bus systems all offering direct service to major business hubs with spacious seating and free Internet service for a fare solidly under $25.

With lower fuel emissions than planes, downtown access to rival trains and lower prices than either alternative, could buses be the future of intercity travel?

DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development suggests there’s reason to think so. In an update to their 2007 report, “The Return of the Intercity Bus: The Decline and Recovery of Scheduled Service to American Cities, 1960-2007,” they noted intercity bus service up almost 10 percent between the last quarter of 2007 and the same quarter in 2008.

“This marks two consecutive years of robust growth after more than four decades of persistent decline,” authors Joseph Schwieterman, Lauren Fischer and Sara Smith wrote. (The authors use service instead of ridership as a measure because uniform statistics are available.)

Pioneered by Megabus, the brainchild of international transport service provider Stagecoach Group, the concept of more for less in bus travel has consistently grown in popularity since its introduction on the East Coast in 2008.

Boltbus, the trendy product of a joint venture between Greyhound and Peter Pan bus lines, piggy-backed Megabus in advertising fares that start at $1 for the first booking, with the majority of prices ranging between $10 and $20 depending on when the purchase is made. Other spinoffs — including DC2NY and Vamoose Bus — quickly followed suit.

And when it comes to intercity travel — particularly between business and college hubs like New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. — travel by bus has emerged as not only cheaper, but more efficient. With curbside pickup, no stops and a travel time clocking in at around four hours, buses rival trains and flights from busy terminals for speed — and the trip can be spent working on a laptop.

The new buses not only provide Internet access to customers, they depend on riders’ Web savvy ways to spread the word. Both Megabus and Boltbus have Facebook and Twitter pages, and postings range from updates on traffic to responses to fans. A recent Megabus tweet — “running as normal in Albany — no schedule changes from flooding” — was followed by a more personal note to a happy customer: “Glad to have you on board! Enjoy your trip :)”

Yet while these new high-class, low-cost bus systems clearly seem to be thriving in the East, will they fly throughout the greater U.S.?

If social networking is one clear key to the popularity and success of the new cheap bus, then well-used public transit systems within the connecting cities themselves may be another. In February of this year, New York City Transit reported that 2008 saw not only a substantial increase in bus and subway ridership from 2007, but also an overall number of rides the likes of which were last seen in 1965.

On the other coast, however, Los Angeles has seen consistent decreases in citywide bus ridership, and although Megabus operated briefly in the city in 2007, within a year all services in California were ended due to lower ridership than expected. As the Chaddick report noted, “In general, the greater distances between cities in the Western United States reduces the appeal of intercity bus service, which is most attractive for trips under 300 miles.”

Yet with harsher pangs of economic downturn making flights look pricier than ever and the popularity of social networking reaching a fever pitch, who knows, cheap intercity buses might well make it on the West Coast after all. For less than $40 round trip, there are few who wouldn’t feel satisfied sitting back to squeeze in some work en route — or maybe just a few hours worth of YouTube videos.

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Add our news to your site.

Sara Barbour
Former Miller-McCune intern Sara Barbour is an undergraduate student at Columbia University, where she plans to major in comparative literature and political science. She is a copy staffer and writer for the Columbia Daily Spectator, and has also written for the Santa Barbara (California) Independent.

More From Sara Barbour

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 22 • 4:00 PM

The Invention of the Illegal Immigrant

It’s only fairly recently that we started to use the term that’s so popular right now.



August 22 • 2:00 PM

What Can U.S. Health Care Learn From the Ebola Outbreak?

A conversation with Jeanine Thomas, patient advocate, active member of ProPublica’s Patient Harm Facebook Community, and founder and president of the MRSA Survivors Network.


August 22 • 1:22 PM

Two Executions and the Unity of Mourning

The recent deaths of Michael Brown and James Foley, while worlds apart, are both emblematic of the necessity for all of us to fight to uphold the sanctity of human dignity and its enduring story.


August 22 • 10:00 AM

Turbo Paul: Art Thief Turned Art Crime Ombudsman

There’s art theft, there’s law enforcement, and, somewhere in between, there’s Turbo Paul.


August 22 • 8:00 AM

When Climate Change Denial Refutes Itself

The world is warming—and record-cold winters are just another symptom.


August 22 • 6:17 AM

The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.


August 22 • 6:00 AM

Long Live Short Novels

Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments comes in at less than 300 pages long, which—along with a plot centered on a sex-tape scandal—makes it a uniquely efficient pleasure.


August 22 • 4:00 AM

Why ‘Nature Versus Nurture’ Often Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense to try to separate the social and the biological.


August 21 • 4:00 PM

Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent Westernizing Surgery

The CBS news anchor and television personality’s story proves that cosmetic surgeries aren’t always vanity projects, even if they’re usually portrayed that way.


August 21 • 2:37 PM

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There’s heightened functional connectivity between the brain’s emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.


August 21 • 2:00 PM

Cracking Down on the Use of Restraints in Schools

Federal investigators found that children at two Virginia schools were being regularly pinned down or isolated and that their education was suffering as a result.


August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


Follow us


The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There's heightened functional connectivity between the brain's emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.