Can ‘bus-as-flights’ get Americans out of cars and planes? – Streetsblog USA

US airlines are starting to contract with bus companies to operate ground ‘flights’ between nearby towns – and advocates suggest intercity bus should no longer be ignored in the car-limiting conversation and aircraft addiction.

American Airlines drew a curious mix of applause and outrage on Twitter last week when it was announced that it would join the growing industry trend of replacing short flights with “ground” alternatives – or, to be more precise, good old – fashionable buses and shuttles.

Tickets for these so-called “bus-as-flights” will be sold exactly as if they were connecting flights, through sites like Kayak and airline websites, and passengers and their luggage will be transported directly from their home to the airport – or, in some cases, directly from one terminal to another – on branded buses resembling American’s above-ground fleet.

An American-branded bus, operated by Landline.  Photo: Landline phone.
An American-branded bus, operated by Landline. Photo: Landline

Some sustainable transportation advocates hailed the move as a sensible way to reduce emissions from short-haul flights and connect isolated communities with long-haul air travel that at least gets cars off the highway. But others saw the move as an indicator of America’s underinvestment in rail — or a cheap marketing gimmick for baited, changeable passengers who would never be caught off guard. any shared mode, unless it happens to be operating at cruising altitude.

Of course, this polarized response somehow makes sense given the strange space intercity buses occupy in the American consciousness. Despite the logging thrice as many miles and more than 15 times more unique trips than Amtrak each year – not to mention about 80% of the travel volume of the airlines themselves – the coach industry is often ignored and belittled at best. as a second-class alternative to air travel and private car travel at worst, say advocates of sustainable transportation.

“We’re kind of like wallpaper,” said Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association. “You walk into a house and you might not notice it, even though you think it’s a nice room. People don’t think of us, but when we’re not around, that’s when people pay attention.

At least in some communities, the lack of shared intercity mobility options was certainly felt during the last fuel price crisis, even if the intercity bus was not always the first solution to it. come to mind. When the Russian invasion drove up gasoline prices, the International Energy Agency recommended that travelers choose high-speed rail over air whenever possible – an excellent recommendation that United States, which has no high-speed rail to speak of, could not keep up.

What the United States Is have an extensive network of express buses, which studies show have about one-fifth the emissions impact per passenger-mile of air travel, based on the average number of passengers for each mode.

Graphic: American Bus Association
Graphic: American Bus Association

This amazing environmental potential, however, is not reflected in US transportation policy. Like airlines, the coach industry is operated by private companies, but contrary to airlines, they are almost never subsidized by taxpayers, even when their use would keep pollutants out of the skies without sacrificing traveler comfort or convenience.

Under the Essential Air Service program, the US DOT is currently helping pay about 175 small communities across the country to access nearby hub airports, some of which are only 75 miles apart – a distance that can often be traveled more. faster on the ground than in the air, at least considering the time it takes to clear airport security or drive down a crowded runway. A 2011 analysis by the American Bus Association found that by simply replacing those sub-150-mile puddle-jumping flights with bus rides, the United States could reduce emissions per passenger by a staggering amount. 72 percent, and save about $113 million (adjusted for inflation) – but to date, we still haven’t.

Graphic: American Bus Association
Graphic: American Bus Association

Even during the pandemic, when airlines and Amtrak benefited from some of the largest government subsidies in American history, motorcoach companies still struggled to access the taxpayer money they needed to maintain routes. The industry has received about $2 billion in federal assistance, split between companies like Greyhound and Megabus, as well as ferry operators and the the entire school bus industry, which operates the largest fleet of transit vehicles in the country; the airlines, meanwhile, received a gift from $54 billion.

“I think it’s pretty unfair,” added Pantuso. “You have to understand that [motorcoaches] are public transport – we are just not public –finance transportation. We play a role in many places where there are no other transportation options. …And when you line up all modes of transport, the bus is clearly the cleanest.

Just because a bus is better for the planet than a plane doesn’t mean customers will want to take it, even though that coach is faster, cheaper and arguably more comfortable than the equivalent flight.

Landline, the company to which American and other airlines contract some short-haul routes, is combating negative perceptions of bus travel by offering something that traditional coaches have yet to achieve: integrated total with the airlines they serve.

“I do not know where [bus stigma] just; it doesn’t make much sense to me,” said David Sunde, co-founder and CEO of Landline. “But what I can tell you is that our customer satisfaction scores, even compared to a regional jet, are really high. …As soon as that door opens, people are like, wow; how have I not traveled this way before?

An advertisement for luxury coach company The Jet.  Photo: The Jet
An advertisement for luxury coach company The Jet. Photo: The jet

Landline is not the only operator trying to entice customers with the promise of a premium bus and shuttle experience. Coach companies like the Jet – which also bills itself as an airline, albeit without the actual carrier’s logo wrapped around the vehicle – offer luxuries like in-seat drink service and leather seat-cancelling seats. movement to attract commuters from Manhattan to DC. from the airport on the open road, all priced at around $120 each way.

Sunde recognizes, however, that the real challenge for the industry is not to get people to abandon the terminal for their medium-distance journeys: it is to get them to choose shared modes rather than solo driving.

“The more I do this, the clearer it becomes that our biggest competitor isn’t the airlines: it’s people driving themselves,” he adds. “And think the more successful we are, the more people we’ll get off the road, especially when they’re going to the airport to park.”

Even when bottle service on buses is offered, getting Americans to travel on the ground floor with their neighbors can be a challenge. But with the right mix of policies, equipment, and investment — and long-term, yes: that includes investment in trains — mid-range public transit could be an important tool in weaning Americans off fossil fuels. , at all levels of the stratosphere. .

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