Technology moves travelers to the bus

Marketplace Staff Dec 15, 2009

Technology moves travelers to the bus

Marketplace Staff Dec 15, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: It didn’t come early enough to help this year’s holiday travelers, but Boeing’s new airplane finally got off the ground today. The 787 Dreamliner is years behind schedule in part because of the high-tech way it was designed and put together.

Cost-conscious travelers sometimes go for a decidedly more low-tech option, though — the bus. But even those who can afford to fly are taking to the roads. Because new long-distance bus lines are using technology to their advantage. From WNYC in New York City, Andrea Bernstein reports.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Brandon Prust is not the kind of guy you might expect to take the bus. He’s wearing a nice suit and overcoat, and has a laptop slung over his shoulder. The international finance worker might have taken the train…

BRANDON Prust: But there’s no Wi-Fi. So if there were Wi-Fi, I’d probably take Amtrak but…

Bernstein: Do you ever think the bus is kinda low class? It’s you know…

Prust: Not this one.

Prust is riding New York to Boston on Bolt, one of the new long-distance bus companies that have sprung up in recent years. Turns out both Bolt and a competitor, Megabus, are luring passengers by combining coolness and the cost factor. They offer free Wi-Fi from the moment you board.

Dale Moser is the CEO of Megabus. He says his customers do say to themselves: “I can save a lot.”

DALE Moser: And I can flip up my laptop and surf the Web, catch up on Facebook or Twitter, or, you know, my corporate accounts. I can’t do that in my car, I can’t do that on an airplane.

A new study by DePaul University in Chicago, being released this month, says Moser has it about right. Ridership on these buses has seen double-digit increases in the past year. About four in 10 passengers are using technology.

Professor Joe Schweiterman’s been studying the bus lines, which now take passengers from city to city in about 20 states. And he says Wi-Fi on the bus gives riders something they may not have on a plane or a train: control.

Joe Schweiterman: That serves a big psychological role, we’re finding people who are suddenly in a dead spot find themselves a bit powerless and that’s where I think the inter-city bus has a huge advantage.

Lots of passengers, especially the younger ones, don’t much like turning off their technology on the plane. On the bus it’s completely different.

Schweiterman: From the minute people sit down they pull that technology out and almost becomes an extension of their office, and so I think it’s why a lot of passengers are willing to take these relatively slow buses.

Slow, but traveling at the speed of broadband.

In New York, I’m Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

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