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As commutes get longer, motorcoach operators are stepping in to offer a more rider friendly experience, along with getting more cars off the road.
Commuter motorcoaches can offer upscale amenities, such as refreshments and newspapers, that provide a less stressful experience when compared to the typical mass transit ride.
Smart People Moving
Bauer's IT (Intelligent Transportation), a San Francisco Bay Area-based provider of chauffeured, eco-friendly individual and group transportation, recently added two routes to its Wi-Drive! after seeing initial success with its commuter service program launched in March 2009. The service has emerged as a prime example in both the chauffeured and charter and tour industries of how operators can tap into consumer demands for saving money and gas while leaving smaller carbon footprints.
On Oct. 12, Wi-Drive! began including round-trip routes between Santa Rosa and San Francisco and between Fremont and Milpitas. The operator also received a permit to provide service to other nearby areas, including Sonoma, Sacramento, and the East Bay, covering all freeways in the area to and from San Francisco. The service is moving 6,000 commuters per day, says Gary Bauer, president/CEO.
Bauer's Wi-Drive! operates weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fares can be as low as $5 for a one-way ticket depending on location, with 10% discounts offered for monthly passes. Wi-Drive! memberships and individual passes can be bought online. A variety of payment methods, including commuter checks, are accepted. Corporate rates are usually less than $10 per person each way.
Bauer's Wi-Drive buses offer Wi-Fi, cell phone charging stations, and laptop power ports, enabling passengers to get work done en route. The fleet is also equipped with iPod docks, DirecTV, leather seats, and work tables, flat-screen LCD monitors, iPod hookups, CD and DVD systems, bike racks, and restrooms. A ride host is onboard at all times to offer food and drink service, which can be purchased onboard or pre-ordered through the Bauer's Wi Drive! online ordering system. The carrier uses a GPS tracking system that lets riders know 10 minutes in advance that the vehicle is arriving.
Bauer's also has made Wi-Drive! an easy option for employees who benefit from San Francisco's Commuter Benefits Ordinance. Enacted in January 2009, in correspondence with Federal Ordinance 132, the mandate requires all employers with more than 20 employees who work an average of 10 hours a week to offer one of three commuter benefits programs to relieve traffic congestion and reduce air pollution.
Commuter services are taking off, Bauer points out. Onboard Wi-Fi may be a significant selling point, with more employers realizing that they can maximize their employees' time. "The idea is that if [the] average employee generates $100 for their company, for $10 round-trip, [the employer is turning the commute into] a profit center, not a cost center."
A Greener "Super-Commute"
Springfield, Mass.-based Peter Pan Bus Lines has been offering commuter services since the company started in 1933. From the start, riders were using their buses to commute to work. Ridership was significantly higher on routes from the Wooster, Mass. area, to Boston, a distance of about 40 miles, during the 1970s and 1980s. But soon after, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) subsidized commuter rail service was put in place in the area, which ended the bus service.
While primarily considered an intercity bus line, Peter Pan has successfully tapped into the super-commuter market. "There are places - and I think it has to do with housing prices, in the Boston...and New York area - people are commuting further distances," says Mike Sharff, director of planning, Peter Pan Bus Lines. "The services that we have from Springfield, Mass., to Boston [are] about 90 to 100 miles. We actually have commuters on that first trip at 5:30 in the morning, leaving Springfield, regulars that take that bus every day to Boston. And we have a route that one might normally take as an intercity route - a distance of about 60 miles."
Peter Pan uses coach types ranging from intercity style, to transit type to 29-passenger mini-buses. Like Bauer's, Peter Pan provides Wi-Fi access on all buses, and in some select markets, they hold promotions, offering bottled water or newspapers.
Most of Peter Pan's commuter service work for the past 15 years has been through contracts. The biggest ones are for Boston University, connecting two separate campuses, and for the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., bringing its employees to work from the designated parking lots which can be farther than walking distance.
Downtime = Downside
Because they don't have a lot of heavy commuter schedules, the downside, Sharff points out, is that running commuter service can be an inefficient use of equipment.
"When you size your fleet to serve that market, the buses are used intensely for a couple hours in the morning, and a couple hours at night, so there's not an efficient use of the equipment in the midday," Sharff says. "Occasionally, there might be some other use of the driver and the bus, but that has to fall in the right time frame. It's a difficult service to supply without government support."
Still, the carrier is planning to expand its commuter service. "It's 10 or 15% of the company's business. We see it as a growth area," Sharff says.
Holiday Worker Shuttles Can Ring in a Good New Year
SEATTLE - One commuter-friendly service niche discovered by some carriers is supplying shuttle service for employees during the bustling holiday season.
The service proves to be a convenience for both employers, who want their closest parking spots to be filled with shoppers' cars, and employees, who after parking in lots farther away, don't have to walk the extra distance. Demand for this service also has spiked in recent years.
"We find a substantial increase in activity around the holiday season," says Tom Casazza, operations manager of Seattle-based Starline Luxury Coaches. "The malls don't want the employees to take up parking spaces right at the mall, thereby allowing potential customers to park there. So, they ask that their employees park offsite during the busy holiday season, and we run shuttles between the various parking lots offsite and the actual mall locations."
The service comprises about 10% of Starline's business, and they are looking to expand it. "We're always talking to corporations. We consider it a separate, independent center from a charter operation," Casazza adds.
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