Premium Bus Lines Emerge, Challenging Airlines

The amenities that have vanished from airlines in recent years—swift departures, comfortable seats, fine dining—are appearing on premium bus lines sprouting across the U.S., some staffed by attendants and equipped with leather chairs, wide video screens and tables for work or dining.
The bus lines are competing with airlines in important corridors like D.C. to New York and Los Angeles to San Francisco. The largest carrier, Vonlane in Texas, refers to its service as "a private jet on wheels." Premium buses may also draw riders from Amtrak, but airlines stand to lose the most, according to Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.
"Let's face it, most frequent flyers, even those flying business class, have grown weary of spending time in airports," Schwieterman said. "Being able to step out of an Uber or cab and immediately climb aboard a custom-designed motor coach can feel like a godsend, even if the trip takes longer."
This morning the Chaddick Institute releases a 2019 outlook report on the intercity bus industry, highlighting premium bus services as a prominent development. There are now 17 premium bus operators in the U.S (see Chaddick's interactive map). Four launched in 2018, and the report predicts more in the future.
"These services are attracting new demographic and socioeconomic segments to motor-coach travel, including travelers otherwise likely to fly," the report states.
Schwieterman said cost is one factor in their emergence.
"Price is a huge factor. If you don't book your airline ticket until the last moment, the fare can be astronomical. Plus, you usually can't change your flight without huge penalty, which is not the case on most premium bus services," he said.
Comfort is another factor:
On its Boston to New York run, LimoLiner offers "leather recliner seats, on-board service attendant, complimentary meals, free wi-fi and room to stretch out or work."
Vonlane expanded its similarly posh Dallas-Houston and Austin-Houston service with a new connection to Fort Worth last year, according to the report, and it may expand beyond Texas this year. The Vonlane website says, "Amenities range from attendant service and noise cancelling headphones to Wi-Fi, satellite television and an onboard conference room."
New premium bus services in 2018 include Best Bus Prime, Catskill Carriage, Line by Trailways of New York, and Washington Deluxe’s Lux Bus Executive Travel.
The biggest challenge they face is psychological, Schwieterman suggested: "The biggest challenge facing premium bus operators is getting travelers to overcome their inhibition toward bus travel. Rightly or wrongly, telling your colleagues you arrived on the bus can still be awkward."
The advent of premium bus lines could be good news for the climate, though, and climate initiatives could encourage them. Airlines have been failing to meet their emission-reduction goals, while electric buses have been gaining traction on the nation's highways.
"Despite having fewer seats per bus than regular ones, these new services are still about three times more fuel efficient than commercial flights," Schwieterman said."The next big step could be the rollout of electric buses, which are quieter and emission free…. If fuel prices rise or our country implements a carbon tax, premium bus service will likely be able to capture a whole new market. They are doing well despite the prevalence of cheap fuel."
"Premium bus lines can rightly position themselves as an eco-friendly alternative to flying and driving."

Tip Jar: If you found value on this page, please consider tipping the author.