CHICAGO — Winter holiday bus travel is projected to increase 1-2 percent from last year, reaching 2.6 million passengers over a 12-day period for Christmas and New Year’s travel, according to data released by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.
Passengers will make trips by bus between, Dec. 23, 2015, and Jan. 3, 2016, which represents about a 13 percent increase over the typical travel levels during the late autumn or early winter season.
"Many passengers have grown weary of spending time in airports on short-hop trips. That means that bus stations will be brimming with traffic over the holidays," said Joseph Schwieterman, a professor of public policy studies in DePaul’s School of Public Service and director of the Chaddick Institute.
"Bus lines are gearing up for the surge in traffic by having extra buses on hand on many routes," Schwieterman noted. "Holiday travel will hits its peak on Dec. 23 as passengers arrive to see their family in time for Christmas Eve."
An estimated 311,538 people will travel Dec. 23, resulting in traffic volume about 40 percent above normal Wednesday levels this time of year. Dec. 28 will be the second-busiest day, with more than 280,000 passengers taking intercity buses.
The Chaddick Institute presents data to offer comparisons with air and automobile travel during major holidays. Findings in the analysis show:
- Passengers traveling on a budget are finding bus travel to be a particularly attractive option. A few weeks before the holiday, afternoon departures on Nov. 25 were available between Los Angeles and San Francisco for $42.50 each way, while Chicago-to-Cincinnati fares were $32. Airfares, by comparison, were $120 and $377 on these routes, respectively, one way.
- Christmas Day remains more lightly traveled than most other holidays, but the prevalence of travel on this holiday is growing as more and more Americans take a bus to make short-hop trips to visit family. A forecasted 145,380 will travel by bus on Christmas, slightly fewer than the 148,389 that were projected to travel this past Thanksgiving. Bus lines will be running normal schedules on many routes on Christmas.
- The intercity bus has regained its prominence as a major player in holiday travel since its rebirth began with the advent of new city-to-city express services starting in 2006. BoltBus, Megabus and BestBus are among the major players in this sector.
Factors impacting bus travel demand
Stronger consumer spending will fuel is fueling growth in bus travel, noted Schwieterman. The average price of gasoline being less than $2.10 over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season will soften demand for fuel-efficient modes, such as intercity buses, by making automobile use less expensive. Despite this fact, bus travel is still expected to be up by 1–2 percent compared to last year.
The ability for passengers to check baggage, including large suitcases stuffed with holiday gifts, at no charge is giving bus travel a new edge over airlines among budget-minded travelers during the Christmas holiday, Schwieterman said.
"Travelers increasingly want to bring suitcases stuffed with gifts with them on their outbound trip, which is good news for bus lines, which are able to accommodate their baggage for free," said Schwieterman.
The Chaddick Institute report indicated that a larger amount of bus passengers are traveling in groups over this holiday than during other times of year. As a result, the demand for reserved seating, which guarantees passengers can be seated together, will rise sharply. Reserved seating was introduced by Megabus in 2014 and recently expanded to allow travelers to choose among 20 seats per bus across its entire North American system.
"Expect to see many passengers wearing holiday sweaters and scarves and carrying large bags of gifts with them on the days leading up to Christmas, which will be among the heaviest days for travel," said Schwieterman.
Bus travel perks
BoltBus, a discount city-to-city bus operator, unveiled in early December its BusTracker, a GPS tracking system that allows customers to see where their bus is and when it will arrive at their destination. The Megabus USA and Greyhound mobile bus tracking application afford travelers similar conveniences.
The growth in bus travel also is being driven in part by sophisticated booking sites that allow customers to search for customized options. Wanderu.com, a leader in online bus bookings, estimates that 20 percent of its reservation activity involves additional bookings that carriers would not otherwise attract. These bookings are spurred by value-added conveniences, such as a station locator and mobile apps.
The rise in bus travel has several other favorable implications, noted Schwieterman. Buses are generally more fuel-efficient than other major modes of intercity travel, creating environmental benefits. They lessen congestion on roads by reducing private vehicular traffic, which is particularly important during high-traffic holiday travel periods.
"While airplanes become more stressful due to the heavy volumes, seating on buses tends to be more spacious, allowing passengers to relax a little more and enjoy the holiday spirit," said Marisa Schulz, associate director of the Chaddick Institute.
"Travel by bus will be heaviest just before and after the Christmas holiday, but somewhat lighter before and after New Years Day," explained Schulz.
The Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University reached these estimates using its own intercity bus data set and bookings data from Wanderu.com, a leader in online bus ticket sales. The full report and methodology are available at http://bit.ly/chaddickresearch.