The High-Tech Bus Is The Fastest Growing Form of Intercity Transportation

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A Bolt Bus boards on New York's 33rd Street (Alex Goldmark)

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) While the nation's attention is focused on high-speed rail, another mode of travel has been quietly expanding – and expanding, and expanding, and expanding. Intercity, curbside bus services like Megabus, Bolt Bus, and the ubiquitous Chinatown buses have grown dramatically over the past several years, according to a study by researchers at DePaul University. Right now, write co-authors Joseph Schweiterman and Lauren Fischer, they are America's fastest-growing mode of transport.

Schweiterman describes these buses as "feisty, low-cost services," easy investments for anyone with the capital to buy some buses and increasingly attractive to travelers weary of long airport delays and TSA pat-downs. What's more, they allow those travelers to bring their lifestyles with them: even the cheapest services offer free on-board WiFi, still a rarity on most airlines and an impossibility while driving.

This isn't a trivial detail: Schweiterman estimates that 40 percent of travelers on any given bus are using a portable electronic device of some kind. "This means sitting on a bus for five hours is not a death sentence," he says. And that means more people are getting in on the action, including business travelers who normally might scorn a cheap ride.

What does this mean for high-speed rail? Schweiterman, who also heads up the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, says the two forms of transport could potentially complement each other, especially in big states like California where traveling between big cities by road – no matter how luxurious the ride – still takes six to eight hours. But the fact that buses are so cheap, and that they require virtually no investment in new infrastructure, is a huge mark in their favor. "The curbside operators are getting really good at getting you to spend  an extra hour or two traveling in exchange for a low-stress environment," he says.

Read the full-study here.