BoltBus fills first year with historic moments
Greyhound, Peter Pan Bus Lines and Prevost have a huge success on their hands
By David Hubbard
While the Chinatown buses cruised the northeast corridor over the last several years, longtime industry partners Peter Pan Bus Lines and Greyhound put their heads together to come up with a more inviting solution. The two carriers determined with what was going on there was room in the market for a more professional and much safer bus ride.
In March Greyhound and Peter Pan celebrate the one-year anniversary of their joint venture BoltBus with high-end, low-fare commuter coach service featuring a fleet of Prevost X3-45s that run between Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
Bolt Bus sells tickets off its Web site with one-dollar seats available. Except in Boston where it is prohibited, BoltBus drivers make pick ups and drop offs street side, which saves on docking fees and terminal rentals, as well as the costs of handling baggage.
“Our two companies have been interested in a street side service as an avenue of growth for years,” says BoltBus chairman David Hall. “Ultimately, the decision to move forward was customer driven. The demand for the unique set of amenities we offer was very evident.”
Hall says while BoltBus serves a region of the country where people know and appreciate motorcoaches.
Even savvy passengers who ride regularly view BoltBus as an all-new experience,” he says. “The Prevost coaches are an entirely new product for them as well.”
The commuter service launched March 27, 2008 with a dedicated management team recruited from both companies and 33 Prevost X3-45s.
“This first year has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work,” says Hall. “But the time has flown by and we have been very happy with the performance from day one in terms of revenue and ridership. Customer reaction and growth have exceeded all of our expectations.”
Peter Pan president Peter A. Picknelly says the first year was a huge success, and notes it took BoltBus only two-and-a-half months to turn a profit. Hall agrees, saying Greyound was very surprised by how fast the service took off; that it feels like the young subsidiary completely skipped the start-up phase.
“We should have done it sooner,” says Picknelly. “The other low-priced carriers often forced passengers to weigh the risk against the price. BoltBus proves we can be just as competitive without diluting safety.”
Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners (BSSP), the advertising agency for Greyhound, came up with the name.
“BSSP hit a home run in all aspects of the brand,” says Hall “The name and the bright color scheme helped establish the fun feel we wanted for this brand, along with the theme of speed since this is an express curbside service.”
The choice of Prevost came out of a comprehensive evaluation of available options in both 35 ft and 45 ft motorcoaches. Hall says at the end of the day the team settled on the Prevost X3-45, the same type of bus many entertainers and musicians use, finding the model stylish safe, durable, comfortable and ideally matched to BoltBus riders.
Greyhound purchased 50 X3-45s in the initial order with the first 33 going to the BoltBus fleet and the remaining 17 for service as Greyhound coaches. Hall says Greyhound is always on the lookout for new business and is exploring an expansion of BoltBus into other markets and cities.
In September fleet Greyhound ordered another 140 X3-45s to bolster both the BoltBus and Greyhound fleets. The first of the deliveries begin in March of this year.
Prevost Car says the combined BoltBus order of X3-45s is the largest single purchase in the history of the company.
“BoltBus represents a historic moment for Prevost,” says Dann Wiltgen, vice president, Prevost coach sales. “The contract we have with Greyhound and FirstGroup did not happen over night. We talked for several years in the earliest stages of the project.”
The initial order gave Prevost an opportunity it had been seeking for a long time,” says Wiltgen. “The success Greyhound and Peter Pan have had with the X3-45 this first year certainly helped in the decision to order the next 140 units.”
Except for the BoltBus Prevost coaches, Peter Pan Bus Lines fleet is 100-percent MCI. Picknelly says it has been interesting for his company to experience the X3-45.
“It has held up very well,” he says. “Most of our garages do the maintenance and mechanical work on the coaches between Boson and Washington D.C.”
Picknelly says since the arrival of BoltBus, even the MCIs in the Peter Pan fleet are sporting chrome wheels. They also will soon be supporting WiFi, and future purchases will include plug-ins.
In the beginning
The BoltBus experience evolved systematically from information gleaned from focus groups as well as marketing students from Boston University. Both companies cruised the Internet to get inside the minds of the cyber-minded youth always on the move and looking for ways to save a buck.
According to Peter Pan executive vice president, Robert J. Schwarz, the target audience went wild when he rolled out the concept motorcoaches done up in black and orange with a lightning bolt logo.
As Greyhound and Peter Pan executives talked with focus groups, they responded to what they heard.
“They wanted more leg room; we took out a row of seats,” says Picknelly. “They both value and appreciate all the amenities, particularly the plug-in accommodations for their Blackberries, MP3 players and other electronic entertainment devices.”
Picknelly does not see the other low-fare carriers as the competition to Bolt Bus, but rather the people who still choose to drive their automobiles or take the plane and train. BR