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VOL. 126 | NO. 216 | Friday, November 4, 2011

Carriers Enhance Motor Coach Service

By Bill Dries

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As Greyhound prepares to move from its longtime Downtown bus station to the airport area this month, another change under way in the Memphis motor coach market reflects broader changes in the business nationally.

Carriers are moving toward low-cost, regional, express bus service with amenities like Wi-Fi – and the competition in the Memphis market is heating up.

Greyhound Lines Inc. and Megabus.com are each launching express bus service to and from Atlanta hubs this month.

The new Greyhound Express routes from the Atlanta hub to Memphis and Birmingham, Ala., start Nov. 15.

The next day, Megabus.com begins daily service from Atlanta to Memphis, Birmingham and nine other southeastern cities including Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville.

Each company uses a different approach to its transportation network. While Dallas-based Greyhound has hubs in its cities, Megabus.com operates a system without terminals, using curbside stops that border bus terminals instead.

“We use locations that are close to intermodal locations wherever possible,” said Dale Moser, president and chief operating officer of Megabus.com, a subsidiary of Paramus, N.J.-based Coach USA.

In Memphis, the Megabus.com location is curbside at the Memphis Area Transit Authority North End Terminal.

The Atlanta Megabus.com stop is at the MARTA Civic Center station.

“You are two blocks off the Georgia Tech campus, four blocks off Georgia State, walking distance to hotels, restaurants, the aquarium,” Moser said.

Greyhound will be an anchor tenant of MATA’s new Airways Transit Center near Memphis International Airport at Airways Boulevard and Brooks Road.

“It gives passengers more options to choose from for their travel needs – locally or (with) other transportation providers that go from state to state and city to city,” said Timothy Stokes, Greyhound media relations manager.

The center, which includes connections to the local bus system and taxi service, is billed as a potential future light-rail passenger station.

Getting Greyhound to move to the center was key to the MATA project. Greyhound had made a tentative commitment in the 1980s to move to the MATA Center on South Main Street at the old Central Train Station. But Greyhound executives later changed their mind about the move.

Stokes and Moser agree the express service represents changes in the intrastate bus industry as a whole.

Both companies offer passengers Wi-Fi access, electrical outlets to charge and use digital devices, and seats with more legroom. And each carrier lets passengers reserve seats, a big change in bus culture.

“You walked up to a bus terminal, you bought a ticket and then you got in line only to find out that you were the 70th person in line for a 55-passenger bus,” Moser said. “You had to wait a couple of hours to go on the next one. … We think we’ve reinvented what bus travel used to be and brought it into a much more popular alternative to driving or flying.”

Greyhound began its express service in the Southeast in mid-September after getting a good reception to the same service in other regions of the country starting in December 2010, Stokes said.

“We see this as a new type of service for our passengers … introducing some of our newer buses and our newer amenities to our customers,” he said.

The Megabus.com system is based on the original Megabus operation in the United Kingdom. Moser said the concept has connected with an American market in which 60 percent of customers in independent surveys said “they haven’t ridden a bus or taken a bus or thought about taking a bus either ever or in many, many years.”

“They told us they wanted express service. They didn’t want a service that stopped in eight or 10 towns or cities along a destination route,” Moser said. “They wanted to be able to do it in about the same amount of time that someone could drive the journey.”

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