For Short Trips, Intercity Buses Horn In On Airline Customers

A study suggests buses offering lower fares, with wide seats and amenities such as WiFi, are seeing significant growth in ridership on trips up to 500 miles, sometimes at the expense of airlines.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. It's hard to imagine a bus getting you some were faster than a plane. But for travelers planning relatively short trips, a new study shows bus companies are gaining on the airlines.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET TRAFFIC, HONKING HORNS)

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Here on a downtown Chicago sidewalk, a few dozen people are standing in the Midwestern spring air, waiting for a Megabus to take them out of town.

JOE SCHWIETERMAN: A whole new demographics are taking the bus.

SCHAPER: Joe Schwieterman is a transportation professor at DePaul University and author of a new study showing that intercity buses - yes, buses - are giving planes and trains a run for their money.

SCHWIETERMAN: It's no longer just the college kid, there's this huge personal business segment.

SCHAPER: Schwieterman's study looked at 52 intercity routes of 100 to 500 miles and found that bus fares cost on average cost about half of an Amtrak fare, which itself is usually much lower than airfare.

But he says this is about more than just saving money. Many intercity buses offer amenities - wider, more comfortable seats, electric outlets and the holy grail of travel, Wi-Fi.

SCHWIETERMAN: The intercity bus is now a force to be reckoned with and that's - I didn't think in my lifetime I'd be able to say that.

SCHAPER: Still, Schwieterman says buses begin to lose their advantage on trips of more than 250 miles and Jean Medina of the industry group Airlines for America, says even on shorter trips, planes are a competitive option.

JEAN MEDINA: Air travel continues to be the safest mode of transportation, it's convenient, it's affordable and it's time saving.

SCHAPER: But Medina acknowledges that high fuel costs, taxes and security lines make it more difficult for airlines to compete with buses on extremely short routes.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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