Bus Travel Makes a Comeback in the U.S. Buses are back. A new study shows a significant increase in intercity and interstate bus travel for the first time in nearly 50 years. Nicer coaches, on-board movies and internet service are helping reshape the nasty image many travelers had of Greyhound and its competitors.
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Bus Travel Makes a Comeback in the U.S.

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Bus Travel Makes a Comeback in the U.S.

Bus Travel Makes a Comeback in the U.S.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Believe it or not, bus travel is coming back into vogue. A new study shows that the first significant increase in city-to-city bus travel in nearly half a century has taken place.

NPR's David Schaper headed out on one of the nation's busiest travel days to ask why.

DAVID SCHAPER: I'm standing outside of Chicago's Union Station, just west of The Loop. And there are dozens upon dozens of people standing on the sidewalk, suitcases in hand. Now, these are people who didn't just come off in trains and are waiting for cabs to arrive. They're not people waiting to go inside to catch a train, and they're not on their way to the airport. These are people who are traveling to their holiday destinations on the bus.

Ms. EMILY WASNIAK(ph) (Resident, Chicago): I'm Emily Wasniak. I'm from St. Louis, Missouri and I go to school in Chicago. So I'm just going home for the holidays.

SCHAPER: Why did you choose the bus?

Ms. WASNIAK: Because it's really cheap.

SCHAPER: How cheap?

Ms. WASNIAK: Well, if you get it an advance ticket, you probably get $20 to $30 roundtrip. So for a student that's really good.

SCHAPER: Wasniak is taking Megabus, an intercity bus service that began in April of 2006 with deeply discounted fares from Chicago to 12 other Midwestern cities. Megabus cuts costs by selling tickets only online and by not having a terminal. The buses pick up and drop off passengers on a street corner, like this one outside of Chicago's Union Station.

Riders say that and loading their own luggage can be a bit of a hassle but beats driving themselves. St. Louis-bound traveler George Dunn(ph) says today's Megabus trip was even a bargain compared to Greyhound and Amtrak.

Mr. GEORGE DUNN: Pay half the price, and it gets there quicker, less stops.

SCHAPER: Direct service with none or one or two stops is what draws college student Seth Farley(ph) to try it out for the first time to Kansas City.

Mr. SETH FARLEY (College Student): Just looking at this bus, I'm a little more excited about taking this one compared to the Greyhound so…

SCHAPER: Why is that?

Mr. FARLEY: It just looks nicer. The seats look a lot more comfortable, and I heard really good things about it so.

SCHAPER: New players like Megabus in the Midwest and the West Coast and bus services like DC2NY on the East Coast are driving a sudden increase in a number of people traveling between cities by bus, according to a new study by DePaul University Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

While watching MegaBox passengers lined up outside of Union Station, DePaul public policy Professor Joe Schwieterman says he and student researchers studied all bus timetables dating back decades.

Professor JOE SCHWIETERMAN (Public Policy, DePaul University): We started looking at trans in intercity buses from the '60s. We want to see the scope of the decline. It's really been a hardship story of American transportation. And in doing that, we noticed that there's this uptick that started in '06.

SCHAPER: Schwieterman says the study finds that since the start of last year, the number of scheduled bus departures has increased 13 percent across the country.

Prof. SCHWIETERMAN: It was sort of a national phenomenon that's affecting all the coasts - East, West Coast, the Middle America, and more expansion appears to be underway. And it was a really striking turnaround, nothing we have seen really since the 1960s have been quite this sharp.

SCHAPER: Though much of the growth comes from the new bus services, some of which offer amenities like on-board movies and wireless Internet access, Greyhound is doing better too.

The 93-year-old company now offers more direct express bus routes, which are gaining riders. And Greyhound just completed a $60-million effort to refurbish its fleet of buses and its terminals all in an effort to attract a new generation of bus riders.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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