Revving up Ridership, Remedies for Flyer Fatigue

Intercity Bus E-News, November 2023

November 6, 2023

Editor's Viewpoint

I often receive a “busload of skepticism” when I inform reporters, consultants, and students about the absence of regularly published data for U.S. intercity bus ridership. The concept so befuddled one Ivy League group that they promised to send me the traffic statistics for major bus lines once they found them. I never heard from them again.

Airline and Amtrak statistics may abound, but don’t expect comparable data for the intercity bus sector anytime soon. Greyhound and Megabus are no longer part of publicly traded companies that provide ridership updates in annual reports. Unlike air and train facilities, most bus terminals are run without federal involvement, which limits data collection mechanisms. We don’t ask Hertz Car Rental, Uber, or Zipcar to volunteer their national traffic data, so why should we expect this of private bus lines?

However, the lack of up-to-date traffic numbers is a roadblock to expanding knowledge and appreciation of our sector. Many mayors and U.S. Congresspersons barely know the difference between a transit bus and a Trailways coach. Some public agencies apparently forget that intercity bus services even exist.

Back in 2016, I estimated that intercity buses carried around 65 million passengers annually, based on the amount of service that 125 companies provided and other inputs. This indicated that the intercity bus traffic is roughly twice that of intercity rail. The American Bus Association makes higher ridership estimates in its widely read industry census reports. This may be partially due to the survey respondents having a broader definition of intercity service.

After all, defining “intercity bus service” is difficult. Should long-haul airport shuttle services be included? What about services linking urban neighborhoods to distant casinos? Or rural transit routes stopping every few miles? Or trips to concerts sold on bus rideshare sites such as Rally? I could go on, but you get the picture.

Intercity Bus E-News focuses primarily on motor coaches on regular schedules on routes of 50+ miles. However, the latest news shows why monitoring the panorama of service is critical to understanding the changing travel landscape.

Watch your inbox in December for our new Intercity Bus Analytics feature on bus travel. We hope you join us to ride through a sector’s metamorphosis. Click here for a link to this E-News edition to share with others.

Joseph Schwieterman, Ph.D. | Intercity Bus E-News Editor

Professor & Director, Chaddick Institute at DePaul University

Sky-High Potential for Airport-to-Airport Service?

A recent Aviation Week feature on Landline, the novel ground transport provider that partners with major airlines, raises the question of how much untapped potential exists for motorcoach services between airports. This market appears to have expanded sharply in recent years due to flyer fatigue resulting from jam-packed planes, stressful security lines, and other factors. However, the economic malaise and concerns over crime in the downtown districts where many bus stations are located are also at play. Work-from-home lifestyles weaken ties between many travelers and central business districts.

The prospect of airport-to-airport service appears greatest on routes under 225 miles, distances that express coaches can usually cover in four-and-a-half hours or less. Although public transit connections at many commercial airports are poor, most boast abundant long-term parking, hotels with free shuttles, and ample car-rental options—services that are unavailable at many bus pickup and drop-off spots. Plus, local airports are intensely familiar places for most travelers.

Three types of airport-oriented bus services are making news:

1. Landline codeshares with major airlines at three busy hub airports: i) American Airlines at Philadelphia; ii) United Airlines at Denver; and iii) Sun Country Airlines at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). It issues boarding passes, much like those given to flyers, and offers guaranteed connections and through baggage claim to the travel destination. Most coaches bear the airline’s color scheme and depart larger airports behind security from gates resembling those for flights. Landline now has more than a half-dozen routes, albeit mostly ones with little flight activity, such as Philadelphia–Allentown, PA, and MSP–Fargo, ND. Most routes are open to non-flyers.

2. Groome Transportation is making inroads into numerous traditional airline markets. A familiar name in the airport shuttle business, Groome is increasingly prominent on longer routes in which air service is available. Its ATL–BNA Shuttle, which links airports in Atlanta, GA, and Nashville, TN, via Chattanooga, is a prototype, making 12–13 trips each way over the 253-mile distance. Other lengthy routes include MSP–Duluth (160 miles) and Phoenix–Grand Canyon, AZ (234 miles). Nearly all Groome services involve passenger vans or minibuses, and some of its stops offer free parking.

3. RedCoach, Salt Lake Express, and Vonlane use hybrid models that mix airport, downtown, and campus pickup and drop-off spots. Miami’s international airport is the terminus for RedCoach’s Florida operation, which extends north to Tallahassee. Its first- and business-class coaches stop at Fort Lauderdale’s airport, and its Orlando station is near the city's international airport. Some of its intra-Texas coaches originate at Dallas-Fort Worth Intl. Airport. Salt Lake Express has a similar philosophy, using airports in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City (SLC) as focal points. It has relatively new routes to airports in Boise, ID, and Reno, NV. Salt Lake Express stands out for linking many smaller cities to airports more than 250 miles away. The third example, Vonlane, is featured below.

Among these, only Landline has put most of its emphasis on airport-to-airport service. All five providers, however, broaden the catchment area of airports. By having longer routes, they add a new dimension to the bus industry's airport offerings, which include the popular Concord Coach and C&J routes to Boston Logan Airport and Van Galder's (Coach USA’s) O’Hare–Wisconsin service. FlixBus has numerous airport routes, including service to Milwaukee’s and Phoenix’s airports. Greyhound’s once-extensive airport service is greatly reduced, but Trailways has multiple bus-to-plane offerings.

How fast can airport-to-airport service grow? Several factors create headwinds:

  • Fear by airport officials that intercity bus (or train) services will reduce airport parking revenue, landing fee receipts, and passenger-facility-fee income.

  • Pushback by airlines that have input in airport decisions.

  • A trend of relocating departures to car-rental centers or multi-modal facilities that can only be reached from terminals using shuttle buses or people movers.

  • Competition from demand-responsive modes. The Uber Shuttle service recently launched in Oregon may be a sign of things to come.

However, the tenuous economics of short-hop flying, chronic pilot shortages, and the greenhouse gas goals of airlines provide openings. The E-News team believes we need much more experimentation with airport-to-airport bus services, particularly on major routes. Another priority is tearing down the “silos” that reduce synergy in air, bus, and train facility planning.

Chronic Driver Shortages & The Push for Automation

A pair of driverless services using buses on public roads herald the rapid advances in automation:

  • In Scotland, a 14-mile service launched in May using full-size low-floor buses. Personnel (at least for now) are on board for safety reasons.

  • In Israel, an autonomous route launched early this year in a 200-acre medical facility uses a 32-passenger Otokar midi-sized bus. It operates with a safety driver onboard transporting staff and is expected to start carrying passengers in April when achieving "Level 4" status.

These rollouts come amid a murky outlook for driverless buses in the U.S. "We have the technology, but we need sponsors and bus partners," noted Ruth Bridger of Imagry, a global firm that developed mapless autonomous driving software and oversees the Israel route, in an E-News interview. To date, no mid-size buses or full-size buses have been approved for driverless operation in the U.S., Bridger notes, which is partially due to the patchwork of policies among states and the lack of a clear federal framework. "The economic potential of driverless buses is much better than the purpose-built driverless shuttles that have been the focus of U.S. smart mobility programs," Bridger commented, adding that "Those small vehicles have limited capacity (ten or fewer passengers), limited speeds (up to 20 mph), and limited ability to ascend slopes. As a result, they can be more of a nuisance than a solution."

When driverless buses finally come to the U.S., expect their initial deployment in operational zones, such as university campuses. But experiments of any kind are important to the intercity bus industry's interests. The sooner operators become acclimated to driverless technology, the sooner they can relieve driver shortages that are projected to continue. Some routes are straight and do not require complex maneuvers, making them prime candidates.

Recent moves by Amtrak and airlines to stretch their labor productivity up the ante. Amtrak’s new Acela trainsets have 368 seats, up from 304 on the older model, while still having a one-person locomotive crew. Airlines are shifting to much larger planes while grounding regional jets—without adding more pilots.

Bus lines have fewer options to ease the pressure on driver pools. For example:


  • Double-deckers are now common in Europe and Mexico. Tornado Bus—oriented toward Spanish-speaking travelers—and Badger Bus have borrowed a page from Megabus’s playbook by using double-deckers with 81 seats.

  • The number of empty seats per departure has fallen. Bus lines have added back service more slowly than the demand has rebounded since the pandemic, boosting loads.

  •  Revamping schedules to reduce driver dead time at turnaround spots and eliminate the need for overnight stays.

These strategies, though, boost productivity little compared to full automation. Many governments, meanwhile, neglect less futuristic strategies that can stretch labor efficiency, such as high-occupancy or bus-only lanes, or congestion pricing, on roads into city centers.


Bus lines must make the case that a coach with 50+ on board moving at posted speeds is a “triple win” for consumers, congestion relief, and the environment. But smart, technologically oriented strategies to reduce the industry's labor intensiveness need to be part of the mix.

New Twists in the Bus Station Crisis

The closing of traditional bus stations shows little sign of abating, with several more facilities at risk. But there is also good news from certain locales. Many of the stations that have closed or are at risk came into the fold of a private real-estate holding company after Greyhound’s sale to FlixMobility. When FlixMobility purchased the Greyhound bus operation in 2021, it did not acquire the most privately owned stations, many situated on prime downtown land.

The distressing situations in Cincinnati, OH, Little Rock, AR, Philadelphia, PA, and Tampa, FL, have been covered in past E-News editions. Each of these closings resulted in relocations to either curbside spots or more remote locations. Additionally:

  • Columbus, OH’s bus station drama continues. A municipal-led redevelopment project made it necessary for bus lines to relocate from their longstanding terminal near the city center several years ago. The municipal government is now seeking to have the privately run replacement station near the city’s western edge, used by Barons Bus and Greyhound, declared a public nuisance and closed. Shuttering the station could significantly disrupt bus travel throughout Ohio, including the state’s GoBus network.

  • Cleveland, OH’s Greyhound Station at 1465 Chester Avenue may be headed for oblivion as private developers step up their efforts to embark on a residential development on the site. The station’s closing would both affect passengers and spell the loss of a historical landmark, as it is one of only a few classic big-city Greyhound stations built after World War II still in use. The Streamline Modern depot was designed by noted station architect William S. Arrasmith.

  • Intercity bus lines will need to relocate from the Charlotte (NC) Greyhound Station to make room for the Gateway Station intermodal facility, according to a local news report.  A proposal to transfer operations to a parking deck in University City, an outlying neighborhood, has reportedly raised neighborhood concerns. 

  • The future of Chicago’s Greyhound Station also hangs in the balance, and concern is growing that it could be lost to residential development as soon as late 2024. Its heavy passenger traffic and the absence of a viable alternative would make its closing deeply problematic.

More favorably, the E-News editor speaks favorably of the relatively new Louisville Greyhound Station at 1211 W Broadway after his September visit. Louisville shows the potential for relocating bus activity to mini-malls with indoor waiting and ticketing and using parking lots for staging. The arrangement is both convenient and orderly. Separately, in Greensboro, NC, FlixBus relocated to Gayland Depot, which is used by Amtrak and Greyhound, making it another success story. In Canada, London, ON, also has a new station arrangement.

Eye-Catching Ticket Offices at Port Authority Terminal

Three attractive ticket offices, those by Peter Pan, Adirondack Trailways, and Greyhound now line the intercity bus area of New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. Such well-designed and staffed facilities give a boost to the image of bus travel at a time when many staffed ticket counters have been lost or become endangered. Competition between these bus lines has increased since the discontinuation of “Pool Agreements” several years ago, which included the coordination of schedules in the Northeast. 

These tidy facilities are reminiscent of railway booking offices in mid-size European train stations, which are separated from busy pedestrian corridors and waiting areas. Pleasantly absent are the rudimentary taped-to-glass (or handwritten!) signs sometimes present in older stations.

Gaps Persist in Illinois but Downstate Options Improving

For intercity bus travel in the Prairie State, it has been—to borrow a cliché—“two steps forward and one step back” for years. Illinois has not invested in intercity bus routes to the same extent as Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. First, this disconcerting news:

  • Peoria (metro population 402,391) lacks direct bus or train service to “The Loop” in Chicago. Passengers can avail themselves of Amtrak Thruway connections involving Burlington Trailways and Peoria Charter Coach, a hometown operator. Peoria Charter has twice-daily airport service to O'Hare, but the lack of direct service to downtown Chicago continues.

  • Decatur (101,463) still lacks any intercity bus service due to pandemic-related service changes involving Greyhound. Another anomaly: its airport has received grants to support Essential Air Service to O’Hare, but the city remains disconnected from both the country's rail and bus networks. By car, it takes about three hours to reach The Loop.


  • Bloomington-Normal (134,524) lacks direct bus service to downtown Chicago except for a circuitous and multi-stop Greyhound route via Rockford operated with state support. Amtrak offers five daily trains to the Windy City, providing stiff competition to buses, but trains are increasingly selling out at peak times. Normal's Rivian electric-vehicle plant is "humming" with 7,000 workers, many of whom commute from as far away as Peoria.

South of Decatur, the news is better. The Hispanic-oriented Tornado Bus is handling heavy traffic on the Chicago - Dallas route, which includes several small cities in the Downstate Region, including Anna and Marion, that otherwise lack long-distance bus service. Carbondale is building a new multi-modal station to be used by Greyhound, Amtrak, and Rides MTD (a prominent rural provider with a large Downstate network). Greyhound’s recent relocation to a downtown transit facility in Springfield, which is next to the city's future Amtrak station, appears to be a success.

Vonlane’s “Private Jet on Wheels” Takes off in Texas

The luxury bus company Vonlane, which bills itself as a “private jet on wheels,” added 60 departures per week to the Texas Triangle in September. This expansion came in anticipation of what Vonlane expects to be its “busiest travel season yet.” The number of trips in each direction and sample one-way fares, are:

  • Austin–Dallas, 9/day, $129
  • Austin–Houston, 9/day, $119
  • Dallas–Houston, 8/day, $94+

Vonlane's Dallas stop is adjacent to Love Field, a Southwest Airlines hub, allowing for convenient transfers to flights. Company founder and CEO Alex Danza indicated in a news release that “[t]his is a big milestone for us at Vonlane because it will exceed our prepandemic service offerings.” Vonlane’s schedule frequency on the Texas Triangle routes exceeds that of any other premium service (which E-News defines as a service having either a first- and business-class seating configuration or enhanced onboard services) on a U.S. intercity corridor. Vonlane offers onboard meal and beverage service and has other first-class features.

The E-News team, during an autumn visit to Vonlane’s stop at Austin’s Hyatt Regency hotel, was impressed by the friendliness of the driver and onboard attendant. Many travelers were dropped off only a few dozen feet from the coach, with one customer cutting it so close that departure was imminent. Many passengers donned business attire, hearkening to a largely bygone era when people dressed up for long-distance trips.

In the News

Coach USA’s website now sells connections between many Megabus routes on a single ticket. For example, a passenger can now buy a Philadelphia, PA, to Charlotte, NC ticket with a transfer in Washington, DC. The move indicates that Coach USA seeks to make Megabus much more than a point-to-point operator. In a surprise move, though, Megabus exited California and Nevada after only a few months of service. The withdrawal could partially stem from the difficulty of finding convenient pickup and drop-off locations in Los Angeles. (Megabus had used the El Monte transit station as its L.A. terminus, which is a considerable distance from the city center.) The strong demand for charter buses could also be a factor.

Bustang, Colorado’s expanding state-operated transit system, continues to capture the spotlight, most recently due to the half-price fares in September made possible by congestion relief funds from the state. A similar promotion in 2022 resulted in a 20% higher ridership than the previous month. Ridership is at record levels, in part due to robust expansion over the past year. The system, like many bus lines, continues to grapple with driver shortages, 

Strong demand for luxury charters and a shortfall of premium coaches have prompted Napaway to temporarily shift assets away from scheduled service. Napaway CEO Daniel Aranov noted at the Move America conference that the company is using the coaches previously used for the Nashville–Washington sleeper service for luxury charters, for which demand is strong. Some customers have booked charters that last for several weeks. Napaway plans to resume scheduled line-run service in the future. 

Indian Trails, which operates a network of routes that includes Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, has joined the Trailways network, increasing schedule options on and The carrier has been on the move lately, continuing its extensive Amtrak Thruway service and offering connections with Adirondack Trailways in Detroit, which allows for through service to Toronto.

FlixBus is ramping up to launch service in India, which has a domestic travel market larger than Europe, in 2024 and recently announced expansions in Portugal and the UK, between Wales and London’s Airports. Earlier this year, it added a Finland-Poland service. FlixBus now serves 40+ countries.

TDS Rolls Out New Tool Featuring Route Maps

Jacksonville, FL-based Transcor Data Services continues to invest in a ticket system called the Multi-Modal Cloud Platform, which is now being used by many carriers. It has also created a Network Transportation Information tool allowing Internet users to see maps of route networks, including station stops, for more than two dozen lines. The tool encompasses major brands such as FlixBus, Greyhound, and Megabus, smaller carriers such as BeeLine Express and Delta Bus Lines, and Amtrak. The addition of public transit routes and other enhancements is being planned. A tab allows users to see bus lines at different points over the past few months and schedules on the route. This tool can be used both for travel planning and evaluating the industry’s rapidly changing geographic composition.

See you at the RTAP and TRB conferences!

The Intercity Bus E-News team will present at the National Rural Transit Assistance Program's 5th National RTAP Conference. The conference, titled "Navigating the Tides of Change with Rural & Tribal Transit", is December 3-6 in Myrtle Beach, SC. Also, visit a poster presented by the E-News Editor and graduate student Janson Busby at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, on January 8, 2024. Finally, we're looking forward to ABA Marketplace 2024 in Nashville in mid-January. Reply to this email to set up a time to converse with us at an event!

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