Bus Travel in the US by mrsmarts


									                Bus Travel in the US—an Overview for Visitors

Bus travel takes a different role in the car-driven culture of the United States
than it does in most countries. Because the area of the US is so vast, flying is
often the most attractive transportation option for traveling between cities
and can be priced quite competitively when factoring in time and
convenience. For shorter distances driving is usually the first choice for US
domestic travelers. However, for routes that are under five or six hours, the
bus is almost always the most economical and often the most convenient
form of travel. Furthermore, as Amtrak (the national rail service) continues to
see cuts in government funding, bus service is often the <i>only</i> ground
transportation option for many destinations. Visitors who are planning to
stick to major cities will most likely find having a car to be inconvenient,
expensive, and unnecessary. Therefore, taking the bus between destinations
is a great option.

Many Americans view traveling by bus with some trepidation, and, whether
deserved or not, bus service in the US often has the reputation of being
rather basic. In truth, the level of service varies greatly among bus carriers.
Some carriers, like LuxBus in California or Transfloridian in Florida, offer
deluxe buses and feature services that are rarely even found on airlines
today, such as on-board entertainment and complimentary food and
beverage service. Still, standard bus service is generally more on the budget
level and offers few amenities. Food options are more likely to be a ten
minute stop at a roadside fast food restaurant than on-board meal service.

The bus industry in the United States is dominated by Greyhound, which is
the only remaining nationwide bus carrier. Several other companies such as
Trailways and Coach USA are made up of independently owned bus
companies that share marketing functions and branding. In addition there
are several strong regional players in the bus industry.         While these
companies compete with Greyhound, they often end up sharing service on
routes that do not have enough traffic to sustain two carriers. This is similar
to “code sharing” in the airline industry.

The most recent development in the U.S. bus industry has been the
“Chinatown bus” phenomenon.           Several years ago a few enterprising
business people in New York’s Chinatown started running buses from
Chinatown in NY to Chinatown in Boston, charging less than half of what
traditional bus companies did and a fraction of what it cost to take the train
or fly. They targeted Asian immigrants who wanted to shop or visit relatives
and needed inexpensive and convenient transportation. Although the buses
were modern and comfortable, the service was bare bones—no advertising,
customer service, or bus stations. Customers simply went to the bus stop,
waited for the bus, and paid the driver upon boarding. For those willing to
do without frills, these companies offered virtually the same service as
Greyhound at a substantially lower price. Before long, word spread about
the service and all kinds of travelers started using these bus lines. They
ecame especially popular with students, budget travelers, and people for
whom the service was simply more convenient.

Soon more bus companies duplicated this model and started offering service
in other markets. Now you can find this type of bus service in Philadelphia,
Virginia, Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. At this point the
term “Chinatown bus” is used more loosely to describe this sort of low-
cost/low-frills service. Many, if not most, of the company’s do not have
Chinatown as there main location and may not cater to the immigrant
population at all. When these companies first started operating, concerns
were raised about safety standards. There is still controversy within the
industry about whether these low-cost bus companies are complying with
the same regulations as the traditional companies. Nonetheless, all bus
companies operating in the U.S. must undergo the same inspection standards
and must comply with the same rules.

Finding information about scheduled bus service is not always easy for
visitors to the US. Historically bus companies have sold tickets at on-site
ticket booths. Many now sell through their own websites as well. Whereas
for plane travel there are many online booking sites that allow travelers to
compare different carriers, it is more difficult to find route information for
bus service. GotoBus.com is a centralized booking site focused on bus travel.
It offers search capability similar to Expedia or Travelocity and sells tickets for
many different bus and tour companies.
Overall, the bus is a great option for visitors to the US who are looking for
transportation between major US cities.         For most cities, a car is not
necessary and will be inconvenient and expensive. In metropolitan areas
there are more choices for bus service today than at any time in the recent
past. Particularly for shorter distances, it is the best way to go for the budget
minded traveler.

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