At the PhoCusWright Innovation Summit last year, on-stage critic and well-known industry figure Evan Konwiser made an interesting comment after the Rome2rio presentation: “Additionally, nobody wants to travel on CoachUSA, I’m sorry.”
We know where Evan was coming from. Historically, US travelers have viewed coach travel as déclassé, and the mainstream travel industry hasn’t bothered to promote it as a realistic travel option, preferring, reasonably enough, to sell plane tickets instead. Need to take the bus? Buy your ticket at the Greyhound terminal before you get on board.
Time marches on, though, and even in the US that icy view of coach travel is starting to melt. That change is largely down to the success of CoachUSA and their high-profile sister company, MegaBus. Since their launch in 2006, MegaBus has carried over 30 million passengers on their luxury coaches, most offering free wi-fi and a level of comfort that surprises first-time riders.
But the biggest innovation is the fares: book far enough in advance and you can travel on MegaBus for a dollar. I just checked the fare from Albany NY to NYC on December 4th, and found eight departures with an average fare of $5. That’s a pretty good deal when you consider the cheapest flight is $180, and the train is $37.
MegaBus are not exactly re-inventing the wheel here. Luxury coach travel is popular in Europe, South America and other parts of the world, and doesn’t carry the same social stigma it does in the US. It’s often a crucial component of journey plans on Rome2rio: I recently flew into Milan from Australia, headed to Turin. I could have rented a car, but didn’t feel like driving after such a long trip; or taken the train into Milan and changed onto the fast train to Turin. Instead I stepped outside the terminal building at Milan Malpensa, walked all of 10 yards to the coach stop, and waited 20 minutes for the luxurious Torino express service ($35) to arrive. Ninety minutes later I was in downtown Turin.
Lately we’ve added some interesting new coach operators and routes in Western Europe, particularly Germany, where a loosening of regulations has opened up many corridors to coach operators for the first time. This example, Berlin to Munich, shows five operators vying for the route and offering fares under $40. That compares well to the train at $166 and airfares at $120 and up. In France, SNCF’s iDBus providesa low-cost alternative to the already extensive SNCF train network.
We doubt we’ll convince Evan that he should start considering the bus as an alternative to JetBlue and Delta, but we hope he might be open to the possibility that his view that “nobody wants to travel on CoachUSA” may be in need of a re-think, particularly outside the US, but slowly (and surely) inside it as well.