The latest installment of DePaul University’s annual outlook for intercity-bus travel describes an industry in the midst of metamorphosis as carriers debut new services amid growing optimism about the economic recovery underway, rising fuel prices, and the void left by the closure of BoltBus. Competition on most major routes is again fierce, accentuated by expansions of FlixBus, carriers catering heavily to Spanish-speaking populations, and a bevy of lines operating from the vicinity of New York Canal Street, home to the city’s Chinatown neighborhood. “The intercity bus industry has awakened from its pandemic slumber. Competition on many routes is as strong as ever,” notes Joe Schwieterman, a DePaul professor who co-authored the report, entitled Routes to Recovery: 2022 Outlook for the Intercity Bus Industry.
The Boston – New York route has six major competitors, GoBuses, FlixBus, Greyhound Lines, Lucky Star, OurBus, and Peter Pan, all offering multiple daily schedules between these cities or nearby suburbs. Travelers originating north of Boston on New York trips can also take C&J Bus Lines, Concord Coach and Dartmouth Coach buses. On the busy New York – Washington route, no fewer than 15 bus lines were again carrying passengers by late last year. All but two offered several daily departures. A pair of them, Tripper and Vamoose, had both regular and business-class options.
“Travelers going through the Northeast Corridor have a remarkable array of bus-travel options,” notes Allison Woodward, a co-author of the study. Ten carriers operate from Midtown Manhattan to Washington, with the other five from the vicinity of New York’s Canal Street. Four of these carriers, Flixbus, Greyhound, Megabus, and Peter Pan, rank among the largest intercity bus providers in the United States. The bus industry provides vigorous competition to Amtrak, which has a large share of the market as well.
In the Midwest, with the withdrawal of Megabus, except for routes linking Chicago to cities in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which remain, it has boosted Greyhound and its interlines partners. Among the beneficiaries is Burlington Trailways, long a dominant player on the Chicago – Des Moines – Omaha route, and Barons Bus and Miller Trailways, which have extensive networks in Indiana and Ohio.
FlixMobility, the owner of FlixBus, took many in the industry by surprise when it purchased Greyhound last November. The Germany-based company has not yet revealed its plans for the historical carrier, although, for the moment, it appears content to keep the two brands’ ticketing systems and operations separate. FlixBus, meanwhile, is a growing force in the Midwest. At the start of 2021, it did not yet service Chicago. By late in the year, the Windy City had become a bona-fide hub. FlixBus debuted service from Chicago to Columbus, OH (via Indianapolis, IN) and Milwaukee, IN, in July, and the following month, it started Chicago to Minneapolis service via Madison, WI. In August, FlixBus launched a route from Chicago to Detroit. On some routes, buses operate only on certain days, although the schedules could be expanded during the summer.
Optimism about the recovery was further demonstrated when Greyhound resumed transborder service from New York to Montreal, QC, and from Buffalo to Toronto, ON, in September. These routes historically have been major revenue generators for the legacy line, with the New York – Montreal running in partnership with Adirondack Trailways. Notably, Greyhound restarted service to Canada sooner than Amtrak, which had yet to resume operations across the border (or even announce a definitive date for doing so), in part due to continuing policy uncertainty, especially regarding the Canadian government.
Other bus lines are working to fill the void left by the permanent shut down of BoltBus (which was owned by Greyhound) last September and Megabus’s withdrawal from California and Nevada. Hispanic-oriented carriers, most notably Los Angeles – El Paso Limo and Tufusa, have grown, as has FlixBus. Still, the Western states appear poised for more service rollouts, in part due to pandemic-related population shifts. Last year saw much expansion by Salt Lake Express in Nevada and Utah, Bustang in central Colorado, and RedCoach in the Lone Star States, the latter in the form of new first-and business-class service in the so-called “Texas Triangle”.
Legislation from Capitol Hill remains something of a “wildcard” for the intercity bus industry. The bipartisan infrastructure bill could spur robust expansion of the Amtrak Thruway bus system, which could help federal and state agencies work to enhance the country’s rail-passenger network. States can also take advantage of the growing latitude they are given to market bus and Amtrak service on the same ticketing platforms, even for passengers who are not making bus or train connections. “It remains to be seen how quickly, if at all, legislation for ‘decarbonization’ of travel will swing public policies in the bus industry’s favor,” notes Allison Woodward, who helped prepare the study.
Regardless, the study predicts that traffic will return to about 75% of pre-pandemic levels on routes carrying little commuter traffic by summer and top 80% of pre-pandemic levels by next year. “After enduring so much financial hardship, it is good to see the industry once again experimenting with so many new services,” notes Abby Mader, a co-author of the study, DePaul’s Chaddick Institute will host a free one-hour webinar on the study at noon CT on Thursday, April 14, 2022. The register or reach the research team, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To access the full study, visit Routes to Recovery 2022 Intercity Bus Outlook.pdf.