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Study projects 1.5 million will travel by bus over Thanksgiving holiday

A Megabus makes a stop at Chicago's Union Station to load and unload passengers. An estimated 1.5 million passengers will make trips by bus between Nov. 24 and Nov. 29 — about a 15 percent increase over the typical Tuesday-Sunday period during autumn, noted the study’s authors. (Photo courtesy of Chaddick Institute)
CHICAGO — Passenger travel on scheduled bus lines over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is expected to be at or near its highest level in more than a decade, according to data released by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.

An estimated 1.5 million passengers will make trips by bus between Nov. 24 and Nov. 29 — about a 15 percent increase over the typical Tuesday-Sunday period during autumn, noted the study’s authors.

A strengthening economy was cited as fueling growth in bus travel and bus traffic is expected to be between 1-2 percent higher compared to last year.

"After years of being at the margins of holiday travel, bus service has returned to the forefront for short- and medium-distance trips. We are seeing more emphasis on short-distance trips this year as passengers seek to avoid the hassle factor of airports," said Joseph Schwieterman, a professor of public policy studies in DePaul’s School of Public Service and director of the Chaddick Institute.

"Much like at airports, bus stations and curbside pickup locations will be packed with passengers on Sunday, Nov. 29. This could be the busiest day of the year,” Schwieterman said.

“The rise in bus travel has many favorable implications. Buses are generally more fuel efficient than other major modes of intercity travel, creating environmental benefits,” said Schwieterman. “They also lessen congestion on roads by reducing private vehicular traffic, which is particularly important during high traffic holiday travel periods.

“Our analysis also indicates that bus travel saves passengers money, as it is generally priced less than air and rail travel,” he added.

The Chaddick Institute presents data to offer comparisons with air and automobile travel during major holidays. Findings in the analysis show:

  • An estimated 1.2 million passengers will travel during the Wednesday-Sunday period (Nov. 25-29). This is the interval used by AAA for its auto/air projections.
  • Travel is expected to be highest on Nov. 29, which is shaping up to be one of the busiest travel days of the year. An estimated 374,000 people will travel this day — traffic volume 25-30 percent more than a normal Sunday during this time of year. Travel on Wednesday, Nov. 25 will also be more than 25 percent higher than the form, requiring carriers to operate a number of extra buses.
  • Passengers traveling on a budget are finding bus travel to be a particularly attractive option. Late afternoon departures for Nov. 25 were available between New York and Washington for $32 each way, while Chicago to St. Louis fares were $40. Airfares, by comparison, were $190 and $155 on these routes, respectively. 
  • Unlike airline passengers, those traveling by bus are increasingly changing their departure times after reservations have been made due to new flexibility features offered by major bus lines. More travelers are taking advantaging of the policy allowing reservations to be amended online up to six hours prior to departure for a fee of $5. BoltBus customers can rebook up to the day prior to the original planned departure for a $4.50 fee. In each case, travelers must also pay the difference in fare. Airlines generally charge a $75-$200 change fee, in addition to the difference in fare.

"Bus lines are taking advantage of the growing desire of travelers to wait until the last minute to commit a schedule for the holidays. Many will book their trip less than two days before,” said Marisa Schulz, associate director of the Chaddick Institute.

Factors affecting travel demand

Greyhound, the largest provider of intercity bus transportation, unveiled an all-new website only weeks before the holiday. This provides customers more information about what they can expect during their journey, such as the types of stops and what services are available at each stop, as well offering new features to “filter” search results, noted Schulz.

Bus travelers will be reserving more seats this year than in any previous holiday period, according to the Chaddick Institute findings. Travelers this Thanksgiving holiday will benefit from the recently introduced Megabus feature allowing passengers to choose among 20 seats per bus to reserve across its entire North American system.

"More bus travelers are comparison shopping this year than last due to all the new technological conveniences available to them. It is an extremely competitive market out there, with fuel prices being so low," Schulz noted

Starting this year, travelers can alert family members about exactly when they will arrive. Greyhound recently unveiled 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 mobile bus tracking application affords travelers similar conveniences.

Demand is also bolstered by the growing availability of discount city-to-city express services by BoltBus, Greyhound Express, Megabus, Peter Pan Express and many other lines. These services include guaranteed seating, and other amenities such as free Wi-Fi and power outlets, which are now standard on most motorcoaches.

"Buses are filling up fast for travel on Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday. Many travelers plan to get a jump-start on the Thanksgiving break. Even if you are waiting until Thanksgiving Day to begin your trip, there will still be plenty of bargains to find," Schwieterman pointed out.

The Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University reached these estimates using its own intercity bus data set and bookings data from, a leader in online bus ticket sales. The full report and methodology are available at​​​


Joseph Schwieterman​

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