Inter-city bus travel used to be the shabby domain of Greyhound, a monopoly (resulting from several mergers) that was complacent for years, as any whiff of one of their stinky buses proved. But things have changed. Since 2006, upstart bus operator Megabus has ferried more than 15 million passengers between major US cities. During Thanksgiving weekend, its passenger numbers were about a third higher than the previous year's—yet another record broken on its route to growth.
Another surprise: A huge share of Megabus's passengers are suburban and middle-American professionals, meaning older and wealthier customers than have typically been associated with non-airplane travel.
Take away its goofy yellow-jacketed cartoon mascot, and Megabus is a company about people who take budget travel seriously. The company maintains safe, comfortable double-deckers that have free WiFi and plenty of electric power outlets, video screens, headsets, and seat belts. Its coaches are modern, well maintained, and smell fresh. (The company has just ordered 100 more.) Best of all, Megabus carries passengers up to 400 miles a trip for as low as $1 advance booking. (Tickets are now available for booking through March. The early bird gets the deal.)
This friendly giant of US intercity coach services expects record traffic during the upcoming winter holiday season. That's partly because on November 16 it launched a hub in Atlanta, offering travel to 11 cities, according to a press release: Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Gainesville, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Mobile, Ala.; Montgomery, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Orlando, Fla.
Rival BoltBus is smaller but also delivering good deals, as are some scrappy regional competitors. (See Budget Travel's recent story: 6 Best Budget Bus Companies in the U.S.) These companies are helping Americans travel, but they're also helping the environment: A bus only uses two pints of fuel per passenger to go a 300-mile distance, such as between Washington and New York City.
With fares rarely cost above $60 round-trip, the new inter-city bus trend passes the sniff test with us.
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