U.S. discount bus lines have undercut the cost of driving as well as railroads and airlines, evolving into a mainstream mode of travel from niche products that first served students and Chinese immigrants, a study shows.
Bus riders save 52 percent compared with comparable rail trips, and pay 79 percent less than the cost of flying, according to a DePaul University snapshot of the industry released Tuesday. On trips between 80 miles and 500 miles in the 50 largest U.S. cities, riders pay 38 percent less to take the bus than to drive.
DePaul researchers factored in how much drivers spend on maintenance and depreciation in calculating the cost of driving.
“Driving isn’t as affordable as people think, when you factor in the wear and tear,” said Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development in Chicago. “Young people are keenly aware that driving can be a waste of money.”
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The intercity bus has become the fastest growing mode of U.S. transportation, offering bargain fares and onboard Internet while letting riders avoid airport security and traffic hassles.
Bus travelers in the 50 cities studied paid an average of $30.53 per one-way trip, compared with $145.23 for airline passengers and $64.19 for rail, the study found.
The number of scheduled discount intercity bus trips has increased 72 percent since 2010, from 589 to 1,014. Growth slowed to 4 percent last year from 31 percent in 2012, the DePaul study concluded.
Slower but still growing
Even with the slowed growth, discount bus operators added routes four times as fast as airlines and more than 6.7 times more quickly than passenger rail, DePaul researchers said.
BoltBus, the Greyhound Lines Inc. subsidiary that emulates Web-based ticketing and curbside pickups of so-called Chinatown buses, expanded in the Pacific Northwest (with popular routes from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. and Portland) and California. Megabus, a division of Perth, Scotland-based Stagecoach Group Plc, expanded in Minnesota, Ohio and southern states.
Stagecoach’s North American bus operations increased profit 42 percent, according to the DePaul study, with Megabus revenues up 23 percent. FirstGroup Plc’s North American express bus operations, including Greyhound Express, BoltBus and YO!, a service operating between Chinatowns on the East Coast, had 10 percent revenue growth.
The discount bus operators have shifted from building out route structures to maximizing revenue from existing schedules, Schwieterman said. When buses are sold out, companies will send a second vehicle for the scheduled trip, he said.
The DePaul studies don’t include Chinatown bus companies like New York’s Eastern or Boston’s Lucky Star because they don’t publish their schedules.