Research Rest-Stop │ The Intercity Bus Grows as a Travel Mode

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.

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According to a new DePaul University report, intercity bus departures are growing quickly, indicating an increase in bus ridership. In 2011, intercity bus departures rose from 2,514 to 2,693, or 7.1 percent, while traffic on other long-distance modes, including automobiles, airplanes, and passenger rail, remained relatively constant. In 2010, this growth came in at 6 percent.

Following this trend, curbside bus operators like Megabus and BoltBus are broadening their networks. As new routes open and as amenities like Wi-Fi and power outlets are added to buses as well as easier reservation systems to purchase tickets, more people are using buses as a way to travel between cities. Between 2010 and 2011 alone, passenger traffic grew by roughly 30 percent. The report poses that “this represents the largest expansion of passenger traffic on curbside operators since the sector emerged as a significant transportation mode in 2006.”

At the same time, competition between the top bus operators is growing, as witnessed by Megabus’s recent moves to limit BoltBus’s addition of particular routes. The report notes that the number of curbside operators is also quickly rising, with the number of departures going from 589 in 2010 to 778 in 2011, a 32.1% increase.

With all of this growth, it appears very possible for intercity bus travel to serve as a profitable endeavor. According to the report, the two largest Megabus hubs, New York and Chicago, are now making profits, demonstrating the potential for a sound and sustainable financial model for curbside bus operators. While Megabus’s newer hubs like Philadelphia and Atlanta have not yet broken even, the report finds that the entire Megabus system can be considered profitable.

As more curbside bus operators find success in the industry and as more passengers find the more reliable and direct services offered by such operators appealing, growth in intercity bus travel appears to be in good shape for the future. With Philadelphia now serving as a hub for Megabus, BoltBus, and Greyhound Express, among others, residents and visitors alike have a variety of curbside bus operators as well as destinations from which to choose.

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