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Bus lines look to win over travelers with upgraded, expanded services


One-to-two luxurious seating is available in the Jet’s 14-passenger coach between New York City and Washington, D.C. There are also attendant services and UV air filtering.

The Jet

James Gilmer is a 28-year-old New York City resident who travels long distance by bus to get to his Pittsburgh home during holidays.

It’s a routine — and route — familiar from childhood, when he and his sister would take Megabus to Manhattan to visit cousins for New Year’s. Gilmer is an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater artist. He has only been on bus rides for local commutes, and occasionally takes road trips to other cities as part of the company.

“I have nothing against it,” he stated, in reference to motorcoach leisure travel. The specific circumstances of travelling from Pittsburgh to New York have a familiarity for me, which makes it easier to feel comfortable on a bus.

Bus travel is often criticized for its low comfort level. The bus is often seen as the last-resort travel option.

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Given that bias, said Florencia Cirigliano, vice president of marketing for RedCoach — a luxury service with origins in Argentina that has operated in Florida since 2010 — her company saw an opportunity more than a decade ago. It’s not the same kind of bus travel that people are used too, she explained. People asked us what we were doing when we first started. Americans do not want buses.

Cirigliano stated that many people would not get on a bus regular, but would jump from their car if there was an alternative.

Indeed, someone’s been riding buses — of all types — all this time in the U.S. Peter Pantuso of the American Bus Association (an industry group), stated that nearly 3,000 bus companies made a record 600,000,000 passenger trips in 2019 and employed approximately 100,000 people.

Covid came along. “With point-to-point [buses] … overall, it’s probably about 50% of where it was in 2019 and slowly coming back,” he said, referring to current passenger numbers. However, every time there is a new version, it seems that the brakes are activated and people pull back.

Still, Joseph Schwieterman, professor in the School for Public Service, Department of Public Policy and Sustainable Urban Development​ at DePaul University, called this “an exciting time” in the industry, which serves twice as many U.S. travelers as Amtrak.

He stated, “For first time, there are three national brands: Greyhound Megabus and FlixBus.” Greyhound was acquired by FlixBus USA parent FlixMobility on October 21st, but they have not yet been integrated.

They feel pressured to stay current with all the tech advances. [such as]Schwieterman stated that Megabus has reserved seating and mobile boarding passes as well as bus tracker and bus tracker apps. “All three also stress value — rival service at an attractive price.”

The trend of business- and first-class coach lines, which offer limited-to-no-luxury seating, food and drink, has seen a lot of growth in recent years. These lines are competitively priced, and often offer a significant discount compared with air and rail options on the same routes.

Schwieterman said that there is a new breed of business-class service providers who are appealing to airport-weary travelers. “The sweet spot is a distance of between 125 miles and 250 miles — maybe 300 on the absolute upside — where it’s short enough that a bus trip doesn’t take an eternity.”

Reserving a bus is a great way to reassure passengers.

Joseph Schwieterman

Professor at DePaul University

The New York-to Washington corridor is an obvious choice. The roughly 225-mile route is well-served by Amtrak, discount motorcoach and airlines, but in November The Jet introduced direct, first-class service from Hudson Yards in Manhattan to D.C.’s Metro Center. The cost for this new service was $99 per way.

That fare, on a route where a business-class airline ticket can run $250 and up, gets passengers a  reserved “HoverSeat” motion-canceling seat with a 45-degree recline, fast-streaming Wi-Fi; on-demand attendant service; and access to a large upscale restroom. The number of seats has been reduced from 19 to 14. Rows are placed 6 feet apart. A state-of the-art UV air filter was also installed.

According to Chad Scarborough (founder and CEO), the HoverSeat is truly the star of the show. It’s the first application of commercial technology in passenger service. An active, independent seat suspension reads what’s happening beneath riders 100 times per second — and reacts accordingly.

It measures a bump to determine if the seat is moving in an opposite direction. “So you end up just kind of floating for the whole ride … seeing the bus bounce around you.”

Think about intercity bus travel

The Jet is a luxury motorcoach company that offers passengers its motion-canceling hoverSeat on New York-Washington trip.

The Jet

Scarborough stated that he wants to complete a rethink of intercity travel. We’re working to remove all pain points [and] create a true first-class experience from background through destination — but at a very reasonable price,” he said.

Two non-stop flights are offered by the Jet between New York City and Washington every day, between Friday and Sunday. Scarborough plans to increase the number of departures to four per day by spring and considers other nonstop point-to-point services within the two metropolitan areas.

For years, other motorcoach companies have offered deluxe services.

C&J Bus Lines recently upped frequencies of its existing services between New York and three cities in New England. C&J Bus Lines’ buses to Tewksbury (Massachusettsbury) and Seabrook, New Hampshire have high-quality double and single seats, Wi-Fi, and power outlets.

For its part, RedCoach — which has transported more than 25 million business and leisure travel passengers in the last decade on its existing Florida routes —expanded on Oct. 15 to Texas, connecting Austin, Dallas and Houston (with stops in Waco and College Station) with its fleet of 27-seat first-class or 38-seat business-class motorcoaches. Texas’ maximum single-way airfares range between $60 and $120.

The Wi-Fi is most effective when people test our seats and feel the comfort. [and]The convenience and ease of using our [drop-off]Cirigliano stated that they are hooked on locations as a substitute for flying or going through TSA. RedCoach, which is unlike other airlines, doesn’t charge to seat assignments and luggage. Two pieces of baggage and one carry-on can be taken free. Some routes also offer refreshments onboard.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many transportation companies since March 2020 and caused a lot of disruption, RedCoach continued to operate its low-density coaches. She said that RedCoach’s de facto social distancing due to having fewer seats was a major selling point. Rising gas prices have made the lines’ routes even more attractive to Floridians and Texans who may drive.

With all of the wear and tear and the cost to refill your tank with gas, [driving] adds up,” Cirigliano said. We are luxury, but affordable. This concept should be available to everyone.

Changing passengers’ mindset

James Gilmer from the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, New York, said, “Traveling between Pittsburgh and New York has an familiarity for me…”

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Schwieterman, DePaul University’s director of marketing and communications estimates that 12 different motorcoach lines are currently in business. “Most premium brands, he stated, are unique offerings made by major carriers.”

Vamoose offers four Vamoose Gold departures daily on their New York-Washington corridor. They have 34-inch leather seats, which are wider than the standard 56-seat coach class, more leg room and reading lights. The other premium options include BestBus (which competes against Vamoose); Dartmouth (another New York City-New England operator); and Vonlone which is located in Texas or Oklahoma.

Schwieterman stated that branding services can be branded as “premium” to reassure passengers who make reservations about bus travel. It’s an important step in winning customers over.