CHICAGO - As millions of Americans hurtle through the jumble of transportation arteries for Thanksgiving, many are discovering that bus travel may be the cheapest, comfiest and even coolest way to stay Zen during the nation's largest annual migration.
After nearly half a century of decline in the bus industry, a new breed of sleek, Wi-Fi-pumping intercity coach is transforming the image of buses as the much-ridiculed travel option of last resort. With free Internet connections, tickets as cheap as $1 and decent legroom, companies such as Megabus.com and BoltBus are luring holiday travelers disenchanted with the hair-pulling rituals of airports and driving.
"I've been doing it for a couple of years and it is a nice ride," said theater student Natalie Sienicki, 22, sitting inside a blue double-decker Megabus idling on a windy, snowy street corner near the grand colonnades of Chicago's Union Station.
Travelers who arrived on a bus from Virginia pull their suitcases along a sidewalk in the Chinatown section of New York, Tuesday. Millions of Americans are hurtling along the nation’s jumble of transportation arteries for Thanksgiving, and more of them are discovering that a bus is the cheapest, comfiest and coolest way to stay zen while completing the nation’s largest annual human migration.
Her journey on Tuesday was not only cheaper than flying ($56 roundtrip) but also took her all the way to her destination in Ann Arbor, Mich. If she had traveled by air, Sienicki would have had to make a side trip through Detroit.
The new bus services are capitalizing on generational and technological shifts: younger urbanites are espousing a car-free lifestyle, and gadget-wielding travelers of all ages increasingly expect to buy tickets online and stay connected for the duration of their trip.
"Young people have no great psychological connection with the car," said transportation trends researcher Joseph Schwieterman of DePaul University in Chicago. "They just want to get from Point A to Point B, and being able to use their electronic device on the way is a bonus."
Many new bus carriers offer free Wi-Fi and have electrical outlets at each seat. Megabus.com has slapped GPS tracking devices on its fleet of 300 double-decker buses, allowing travelers and the people waiting for them on the other end to track the trip in real time with a smartphone app.
"Those kinds of things we feel really matter," said Mike Alvich, Megabus.com's vice president for marketing. Such innovations along with the prices, he said, are why Megabus.com has enjoyed so much success pulling people out of their cars. The company says 30 percent of its customers are people who otherwise would have taken a car for the same trip.