Luxury Bus Travel No Longer An Oxymoron |

Travelers planning a trip from one city to another typically stick to planes, trains and automobiles, though not in that order.

But increasingly, buses are edging their way back onto that list.

An article in the Miami Herald captured bus travel’s image problem when it quoted a flight attendant’s surprised admission: “I never thought I’d say this, but the bus is a really nice option.” (1) Intercity bus travel conjures images of uncomfortable seats, bumpy roads and a motley crew of fellow passengers, but bus companies have worked hard to change that impression in recent years.

Luxury bus services tackle the problem from the angle of comfort. Miami-based RedCoach offers large leather seats, on-board movies and free Wi-Fi on its trips between 11 Florida cities. The Herald reported that RedCoach, like other bus companies, has found favor with college students and business travelers, who together make up three-fourths of its total passengers. Other companies have been exploring demand for luxury bus service elsewhere in the country, including LimoLiner between New York City and Boston and LuxBus between Las Vegas and Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Diego.

On the other end of the spectrum, some companies have worked to make economy bus travel a safe and attractive option. British-based Megabus, which arrived in the United States in 2008, quickly gave rise to a Greyhound-owned competitor in BoltBus; both offer tiered pricing with at least one ticket per trip at a $1 fare, plus booking fees. Most passengers pay between $10 and $30. To keep costs down, both companies pick up curbside. Yet even on these carriers, customers typically have access to power outlets and Wi-Fi.

Both luxury and economy bus travel offer other advantages besides connectivity. The primary one is also perhaps the most obvious: flexibility. Buses go where you want them to go. Unlike rail systems, if a certain bus route sees a significant decrease in passenger traffic while travelers clamor for service to a new destination, buses can be rerouted to respond to demand.

Buses use existing roads and infrastructure. This also facilitates long- and short-term rerouting. And, while precise comparisons are complicated, buses have the overall edge in fuel efficiency. A comparison by the International Council on Clean Transportation last year put fuel economy at a little over 40 passenger miles per gallon for a plane and at around 152 passenger miles per gallon for an intercity bus. Trains came in at about 51 passenger miles per gallon, slightly better than a plane but slightly worse than a car. (2)

It typically does not matter how much your luggage weighs when you take the bus. The legroom ranges from adequate to spacious, depending on the type of bus you select. And passengers don’t need to run the elaborate security gauntlet we have developed for air travel. You can bring as large a water bottle as you care to carry, and not worry about whether you remembered to take your craft scissors or your full-sized shampoo bottle out before putting your bag in the luggage compartment.

Buses are also good for taxpayers. The capital outlay is minimal and none of it is coming from the government. Even if it were, the inherent flexibility in running a fleet of buses would make it a much wiser investment than the trendy rail projects so popular with federal and local politicians.

It has been 40 years since I took an intercity bus myself. They were okay back then, though they lacked many of the improvements instituted in the past decade. The remaining problem that most people agree about is the state of bus terminals in most cities. New York City’s Port Authority Terminal at 42nd Street has such a poor reputation that comedian John Oliver lampooned the agency’s concern over unauthorized use of its image on a dinner plate.

Bus terminals could certainly be improved, and not only in New York. If lawmakers are interested in supporting transit options, this could be a much more logical place to focus spending, rather than on inflexible and often redundant trains and tracks. Or, if local and state regulators allow it, existing terminals could even be replaced by new alternatives. For instance, strip malls, of which there are probably more already in place than the market will be able to support in the era of online shopping, could be repurposed into open air bus terminals. Most already have ample parking.

The rise in popularity of long-distance buses is a good example of how the private market, left to its own devices, can fill a need effectively. Moreover, the market can do so without government intervention or tying up public capital for years to support a project that may no longer make sense, even by the time it’s completed.


1) Miami Herald, “Luxury buses scooping up more passengers”

2) The International Council on Clean Transportation, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Counting Carbon”

Virtual Meetings Cut Travel Costs |

A majority of companies have higher travel expenses than they need,” says Alisa Jenkins, senior director at Bredin Business Information, a business consulting firm. “This doesn’t mean you have to cut out all travel. There are still many cases where meeting face to face is best. But there are also good ways to meet virtually that can make many of your business trips unnecessary.”

Alternatives to business travel – such as web conferencing with Microsoft Office Live Meeting or similar products – continue to improve with advances in internet and related technologies, most agree. We’ll address the options, including video conferencing, teleconferencing, online collaboration tools and the web conferencing in detail below.

But first: When do you absolutely need to meet? Here are some scenarios mentioned by experts:

  • You are meeting a new client.
  • You are introducing new people – perhaps your replacement – to an ongoing but important business relationship.
  • You are attempting to close a significant sale or cut an important deal.
  • You are delivering a product that you must demonstrate.
  • You need to resolve a controversial or complex problem, or discuss top-secret matters such as an acquisition or merger.
  • You need to meet with an attorney to discuss legal matters.
  • You need to solicit money from an investor.
  • You are making sales or training presentations and your materials are best presented in person.
  • Your competitors are meeting face to face with a client you want.

Perhaps you could add other scenarios specific to your company or industry. The point is, meetings remain critical to the success of your business.

However, there are many meetings where technology can substitute for travel easily and effectively.

“You generally need to find the wherewithal to make that initial contact face to face,” says Diane Parks, an information technology products reseller. “But once you have established a relationship, technology can save you time and money for your later meetings.”

“It depends on the level of importance and whether deal-making is involved,” adds Bruce D. Phillips, senior fellow for regulatory studies at the United States-based National Federation of Independent Business. He says there are times when professional meetings, like conventions, may be dispensable.

With increased airport security and the time it takes to get through airports now, the “quick trip” – where you fly to and from a meeting on the same day – isn’t so quick, or practical, anymore, Parks adds.

“Virtual meetings” may not be as much fun, but they can allow you to get a lot of work done at less expense. Here’s a rundown of the alternatives:

Video Conferencing An interactive use of video, computing and communication technologies to allow people in two or more locations to meet – either one-on-one or in groups of up to a dozen people or so – without being physically together. Video can be streamed over the Internet or broadcast over television monitors.

Pluses: High-end video conferencing systems (such as those owned by many larger corporations) can bring together large groups of people in disparate locales to hear speeches and presentations in a broadcast-quality setting. But video conferencing today also can be done on the cheap, with inexpensive webcams and free or low-cost software, such as Microsoft NetMeeting.

Minuses: Unless you go to a video conferencing centre, audio and video equipment must be purchased. (NetMeeting, for example, requires a PC sound card with a microphone and speakers, as well as a video capture card or camera for video support.) Most video conferencing providers charge by the hour, so you may feel pressured to end on the hour and leave business undone.

Web Conferencing Video conferencing without the video – or, put another way, teleconferencing with the addition of the web for interactive presentations, using PowerPoint, Excel or other documents. Audio can be transmitted by telephone and/or PC microphones.

Pluses: All you need is Internet access and a phone. You can make presentations at once to as many as 2,500 people in different locations. You don’t have to email the PowerPoint slides or other documents to your audience ahead of time – you use the visuals and highlight points in real time. Other participants can also use drawing tools to make points or take control of your presentation as well. NetMeeting works well for web conferencing as well.

Minuses: It’s certainly not the same as meeting in person, and you miss out on people’s facial expressions and body language, unlike video conferencing. But for straightforward business plan reviews, sales meetings, software demonstrations and customer presentations, it works – and brings a lot of people from far and wide together for one meeting.

Teleconferencing Teleconferencing services are offered by long-distance carriers or independent service bureaus using sophisticated call connection “bridges” to join many different phone calls into a single conversation.

Pluses: Calls can be set up quickly and easily, at relatively low cost. All you need is a telephone. Accompanying documents can be faxed, emailed or shipped overnight to meeting participants in advance, if necessary.

Minuses: Teleconferences work well for simple information sharing and straightforward decision-making that require no visual presentation. But they are not a suitable way to discuss more-complicated matters, which could be presented better via web conferencing. Teleconferencing also is not a desirable way to begin or even further an important business relationship. But, in a pinch, it can accomplish a lot.

Online Collaboration Tools While email remains a key business tool, this discussion will focus on extranets – private websites that allow you to share files, documents and use message boards with selected customers or partners.

Pluses: Having an extranet won’t take the place of a long-distance meeting using one of the alternatives above. But it can, over time, reduce the need for some meetings by allowing you to have ongoing communication and document-sharing.

Minuses: You can communicate in real time using chat or instant messaging, but most communication is not interactive. Extranets, however, effectively can turn a teleconferencing session into a web conferencing one if all of the participants have access to the private site.