News from across the pond suggests that the internet is leading to a ressurgence in bus use – and not just from online bookings.
Researchers at De Paul University in Chicago have discovered that more and more people in the US are ditching their cars and going by bus – and they cite the ability to surf the internet as they travel as a major reason.
Higher fuel prices have made driving a car less attractive at the same time as buses have begun to offer access to free Wi-Fi, though mostly on long distance routes.
As a result, though buses were once viewed as the transport choice of last resort in the US, bus travel is now beginning to attract more affluent riders, students and women travelling alone.
School boards in some parts of America are already ahead of the game, though. Several began to offer free wi-fi on board their yellow school buses last year and have transformed pupil behaviour. Instead of the usual end-of-school boisterous riot at the back of the bus, kids sit and quietly surf the net. It’s unnerving, says one driver.
Bus companies in the UK have looked at mobile wi-fi, too, and one or two operators – Reading Buses, for example, and Greyhound services from Southampton to London - have even introduced it on some select services. There’s even talk of free wi-fi being available on all London buses in the near future (we’ll keep you posted).
However, so far nobody has rushed to offer free wi-fi on ordinary bus routes. Installation and operating costs are obviously as issue, but these will certainly decline in time so I reckon its only a question of who jumps first, and when.
The signs in the US look positive, though.
“Bus travel is suddenly cool,” said Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development who lead the research. “There’s a fatigue over driving combined with a revitalized image of the bus.”
No wonder Megabus, which is owned by Stagecoach, and BoltBus, which is owned by First Group, have seen a 32% boost in passenger numbers in the past year year, though to be fair the switch from bus station to curbside pick-up has proved popular, too. Nonetheless, DePaul’s report that bus traffic grew in 2011 at the fastest pace since 2008 and fares are rising, too, with routes where fares of $20 or less were once common now seeing tickets priced at $35 or more.