Until recently, John Alday either drove or flew the 200-mile trip between his company’s headquarters in Dallas and its satellite office in Austin.
But too many times, he said, when he flew it ended up taking far longer than he planned, whether it was a problem in getting to the airport or checking in, or a weather delay. Now he has switched to a simpler and, he says, more reliable means of transportation: a bus, specifically an executive coach.
“It’s more luxurious than any first-class seat I’ve ever been in,” said Alday, the chief executive of the Cima Solutions Group, an information-technology company. The Vonlane bus Alday rides has 16 reclining leather seats, Wi-Fi, an attendant who serves meals and beverages, a wireless printer, office supplies and a conference table with additional seating.
And even though the $100 one-way fare is expensive as bus tickets go, it is still a bargain compared with refundable airfares, which can be at least double the price between Dallas and Austin, he said.
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As airline travel becomes more complex with added security, overstuffed bins and tightly pitched seats, and train passengers grapple with on-time reliability and erratic Wi-Fi connections, business travelers like Alday are turning to upscale executive coaches with hefty price tags and limited seating.
Experts say corporate time constraints, leaner travel budgets and environmental awareness are also contributing to the rise of executive buses.
“The stigma for bus travel has evaporated,” said Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. “People are willing to endure a longer commute for a mobile-office benefit.”
His research found that nearly 60 percent of discount bus travelers used a personal electronic device en route in 2014, up from 46 percent a year earlier, while the numbers held steady at 52 percent for Amtrak and 35 percent for the airlines. The study did not include a separate category for luxury buses.
Vonlane is not alone. Other services include Dartmouth Coach and C&J, originating in New Hampshire and traveling to Boston and New York with stops in between; LimoLiner, which travels between Boston and New York; Vamoose Gold and Royal Sprinter, which travel between Washington, D.C., and New York; Red Coach, which connects cities in Florida; and Lux Bus America, whose routes include Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
“Value is being recognized,” said Brian Antolin, a transportation consultant in Philadelphia. He credits the Hampton Jitney, which shuttles people between New York and the North and South Forks of Long Island, for providing the blueprint.
Another benefit of the executive coaches, travelers say, is that they no longer need to plan as far ahead.
David Pasch, communications director of Generation Opportunity, a youth-advocacy organization in Arlington, Va., said his business trips were often scheduled less than a week in advance. By that time, many seats on the Amtrak Acela express train had become too expensive for his budget. (On a recent Thursday, the rate for a one-way Acela ticket, booked one week ahead for arrival in New York before noon, was $180.)
Instead, Pasch said, he is now a regular traveler on the eight-seat Royal Sprinter between Washington, D.C., and New York. The van charges $90 one way up to departure time. It is equipped with individual seats and televisions, snacks, water and Wi-Fi, with two routers enabling passengers to work without interruption if one goes out.
He said he preferred being able to arrive just before departure, rather than spend time waiting in line. “Flexibility is a big selling point for me,” he said. On an uncrowded returning bus, occasionally the driver will drop him off at his apartment.
Though traffic can cause delays, passengers say the amenities make up for that.
“We don’t get complaints about traffic,” said Alex Danza, chief executive of Vonlane. “Passengers say they get an extra hour of work done.”
To further distinguish themselves from their curbside counterparts, at least two startups, Vonlane and Royal Sprinter, arrive and depart from hotels.
In New York, Royal Sprinter stops at the Loews Regency. Adrian Norbury, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said that the partnership with a bus company had helped the Regency’s business. “Passengers wait in the lobby lounge or the bar, and often have a drink or coffee before departing,” he said.
Others dine at its restaurants. And he has noticed an uptick in room bookings. A link for the hotel is on the Royal Sprinter website. Guests have a small incentive: Passengers are eligible for a 10 percent discount, subject to availability.
Still, bus travel does not eliminate travel inconvenience. Traffic can snarl. And schedules can be somewhat lean compared with trains and planes.
There are also lingering safety concerns.
“Just because you’re paying more doesn’t mean the bus is safer,” says Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance in Greenbelt, Md.
After a discount bus returning from a casino to New York crashed in the Bronx in 2011, killing 15 people, bus safety has come under increased scrutiny, experts say.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has quadrupled the number of high-risk companies its investigators have shut down, according to Marissa Padilla, an agency spokeswoman.
The agency is now reviewing every new bus company within two years. Safety records of bus companies are available at the agency’s website.
Still, Alday has become a convert. “Not only is it cheaper, there is all that productivity,” he said. “It’s like your own personal service going back and forth.”