Vehicles

Why Operators Should Supply Buses To Everywhere

Martin Romjue
Posted on August 30, 2017
(LCT image)
(LCT image)

Each year we publish our bus issue, I’m struck by how the motorcoach market brings more choices in brands and equipment and upgrades on all models.

The number of motorcoaches, along with large vans and minibuses, set a new record each year at our trade shows. While preparing for this issue, I talked to a few motorcoach operators about their challenges and business goals. Connecting the points, motorcoaches offer the potential to provide more comfortable and affordable options in the ground transportation sector.

So let’s take a journey aboard Amtrak and its public sector offspring, the “Crazy Train,” to explore a new revenue opportunity for motorcoach operators.

One motorcoach operator told me he wished they could get the passengers from Amtrak, which has been a taxpayer-subsidized money loser since it started during the Nixon administration in 1971. I won’t argue whether to keep Amtrak, given its iconic status as America’s passenger rail service and loyal rider support. But we should consider the facts about it as the U.S. needs to improve a transportation network plagued with airline and airport delays, traffic congestion, and growth in ridehail services like Uber and Lyft.

A July 2013 report comparing Amtrak and motorcoach service by the Reason Foundation, and promoted by the American Bus Association Foundation, found the following:

  • Motorcoaches average less than 25% of the full cost to provide comparable Amtrak service.
  • Motorcoaches serve 2,766 cities and towns in the lower 48 states, while Amtrak serves more than 500 cities and towns in 46 states.
  • Only two Amtrak lines generate enough revenue to cover operating and capital costs.
  • On average, per-passenger carbon emissions from motorcoaches are 45%-65% less than comparable Amtrak trips.
  • Motorcoaches generally offer more schedules per trip than comparable Amtrak trips. Generally, total trip time by motorcoach is comparable to Amtrak.

One detail left me flabbergasted: In August 2012, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee disclosed Amtrak spent $16.15 per hamburger, but charged $9.50 to customers, for a loss of $6.65 for every hamburger sold. On the theory if you can’t get the little costs right, the big costs will be worse, Amtrak raises some serious questions.

Will it ever happen? Construction of the Fresno River Viaduct in September 2016. The bridge is the first permanent structure being constructed as part of California High-Speed Rail. The project keeps getting costlier with longer timelines, with the first 119 miles are not projected to be done until at least 2024, and would only connect Fresno with Madera. (Wikimedia Commons photo by California High-Speed Rail Authority)
Will it ever happen? Construction of the Fresno River Viaduct in September 2016. The bridge is the first permanent structure being constructed as part of California High-Speed Rail. The project keeps getting costlier with longer timelines, with the first 119 miles are not projected to be done until at least 2024, and would only connect Fresno with Madera. (Wikimedia Commons photo by California High-Speed Rail Authority)
Enter the Crazy Train being built in California. Construction has already started in the Central Valley to someday connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, and later San Diego.

Leaving aside the moronic decision to start laying tracks in a rural region in the middle of a planned route instead of working out from a metro region with more peopled stops, a first-rate fiasco looms. Like many massive public projects, it was sold to voters in 2008 as a savior, costing “only” $33 billion with maximum travel times of two hours and 40 minutes between San Francisco and Los Angeles at 200 mph. The first leg from Merced to Burbank would be done by 2022.

By 2013, the estimated cost climbed to $68 billion with an extended travel time of three hours-plus as opposition erupted along geographic and political routes, from agricultural towns to wealthy suburbs, from environmental groups to taxpayer rights groups, to lawyers exploiting legal loopholes. Then came the inconvenient detail of boring 36 miles of tunnels across two high east-west mountain ranges full of earthquake faults that separate the greater Los Angeles region from the Central Valley. New date: 2025, or just some time in the late 2020s.

This phantasm of a Disney dream train system deserves to fade like fairy dust. As the nearby box shows, the facts favor private sector-run motorcoaches. For a fraction of Crazy Train costs, dedicated bus travel lanes between cities, partially funded by modest tolls, could handle 24/7 motorcoach runs.

With restrooms and floorplans that include a self-serve beverage and snack area, a motorcoach could run non-stop for the 400 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles at 80 mph for a travel time of five hours-plus.

Operators already have proven the worth of such long-distance motorcoach trips via line runs and commuter services. Some motorcoaches even offer business class-level seating plans with WiFi. America is long overdue for this smarter solution.

Motorcoach Advantage
• Each motorcoach could displace 55 less-efficient cars. Measuring by passenger miles per gallon, motorcoaches are seven times more efficient than travel by car.

• Motorcoaches are twice as efficient as travel by train and four times as efficient as flying. One gallon of fuel can provide more than 200 passenger miles on a motorcoach.

• A motorcoach is one of the most efficient and cleanest forms of transportation. Many studies have confirmed that measuring on a per-passenger and per-mile basis, ABA President Peter Pantuso said in a 2015 LCT interview.

• Motorcoaches average nearly 240 passenger miles per gallon, while intercity rail (Amtrak) averages 85, commuter rail, 90, transit buses, 70, domestic air travel, 55, and single-occupant cars, 28.

Related Topics: American Bus Association, Amtrak, buses, business opportunities, commuter services, ground transportation, group transportation, LCT editor, line runs, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, public transit

Martin Romjue Editor
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