“Curb-side services are bringing a legitimacy to bus travel that was absolutely lacking before,” said Joe Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute.
About half of those riding curb-side buses are between the ages of 18 and 25, according to the study.
With names like BoltBus, Megabus and DC2NY, today’s curb-side buses are a hip, young departure from more traditional carriers like Greyhound.
“The public image of what a bus is, is changing,” said Nicholas Klein of Rutgers University. “They used to be thought of as a travel option of last resort for people who couldn’t drive or afford to fly.”
Curb-side buses, which pick up and drop off passengers on city streets instead of at traditional terminals, have been rising in popularity in the Northeast since 2008, when BoltBus and Megabus began operating in the region.
The D.C. market “has grown better than we ever expected,” thanks to college students and young professionals in the area, said Dale Moser, president and chief operating officer of Megabus.
The company has begun offering trips to Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte and Knoxville in the past seven months. BoltBus, which is owned by Greyhound and Peter Pan, recently added a route from Washington to Newark, and NY2DC is considering expanding into Boston and Philadelphia, according to chief executive Richard Green.
“People are telling us they’re taking trips just because they can,” Moser said. “Any seat on any of our buses will be more economical than an airplane, a train or driving your own car.”
Amtrak would not comment on the impact of curb-side buses, but spokesman Steve Kulm said that the company is on track to exceed 30 million passengers this year — a record. A combination of high fuel prices and economic recovery has contributed to the growth, he said.
“The economy, as slowly as it may be growing, is rebounding,” Kulm said. “Travel is up.”
A recent search for tickets from Washington to New York City on Friday evening turned up one-way fares of $111 on Amtrak, $19 on BoltBus and $23 on Megabus.
The low prices, combined with amenities like free wireless Internet and electrical outlets at every seat, are further helping draw customers. More than 91 percent of passengers plan to use electronic devices en route, according to the DePaul study.
But, Schwieterman said, there was one demographic squarely missing from regional buses: the business traveler. More than 83 percent of passengers surveyed said they were traveling for pleasure or personal reasons.
“The briefcase-carrying business traveler still isn’t likely to take the bus,” Schwieterman said. “It’s amazing how much bus companies have been able to grow despite the lack of business travelers.”
Moser of Megabus said the number of commuters who ride the company’s buses is “fast-growing, but still relatively small.” In any case, he says, the company is seeing results.
“It took us 18 months to get our first million passengers,” Moser said. “Now we get a million every three months.”