Certainly, the era of long-distance, coast-to-coast bus travel may be over, however, the number of people taking buses within a 250- to 300-mile radius is greater than ever. The rise in gasoline prices to over $4 per gallon and heading to $5 a gallon may offer an historic opportunity to the inner-city bus industry.
The northeast corridor is now one of the most competitive bus markets on the planet. Our partnering with Greyhound in launching BoltBus is a signal that we believe a whole new segment of the population is trying bus travel on for size between large cities in the east.
After its first month of operation, BoltBus carried 30,000 passengers – these are new passengers as Peter Pan passenger counts during the month we launched Bolt were down less than one percent compared with the same month last year.
BoltBus caters to that segment of the population that prefers not to use bus terminals, a new market for us, and transports people non-stop to and from the heart of major cities using online reserved seating.
Coach amenities are more sophisticated and include free wi-fi, laptop plug-ins, video monitors and more leg room than commercial aircraft.
Bus travel is strong and will continue to be a major player in transporting people in the United States. It always surprises people when I share the following facts about bus travel in North America:
631 million people ride buses each year;
More people take buses than trains and planes combined; and
Buses transport more people in two weeks than Amtrak transports in an entire year.
The industry is poised for even more opportunities and expansions with the spike in gasoline prompting more people everyday to look for alternatives. What they are learning is that bus transportation is an appealing, less expensive alternative.
Buses offer high frequency of service and in most cases reservations are not required.
There are currently 300 million people in the U.S., and by the year 2035 it is projected there will be 400 million. This growth will primarily come from immigrants who will be much more acclimated to taking buses since bus travel is a primary mode of transportation around the world.
Cities such as New York where traffic mitigation is needed, are looking at imposing tolls on private autos which will serve as another inducement for people to ride public transportation.
The public is more attuned to environmental “green” issues than ever before and the bus is the most eco-friendly transportation on the planet – offering more miles per passenger and better emissions per person, per mile than other forms of transportation.
Buses also are able to tout the best safety record of all transportation modes.
More and more groups find that chartering buses is a preferred mode of transportation – keeping their group together rather than traveling in several cars, avoiding parking hassles with point-to-point travel. Being mindful of this trend we have also added some 29-passenger vehicles to our fleet to accommodate smaller groups.
We have also been aggressive as a company in pursuing shuttle contract work for colleges and businesses. This reduces their costs as well as the traffic congestion factor.
Legislatively, Peter Pan continues to educate public officials about the great value of bus travel efficiencies, particularly as it relates to conserving energy and promoting mass transportation.
The future of bus travel remains very bright in the U.S. – perhaps brighter than ever. And, Peter Pan will continue to play a major role within this industry as we look for ways to respond to the growing needs of the traveling public. Peter A. Picknelly is the president of Peter Pan Bus Lines which is marking its 75th anniversary this year.