How A Tech Entrepreneur Ran A 7-Figure Business From A Bus He Lived On With A Wife And 3 Kids
October 16, 2021
December 27, 2021
For New York City resident James Gilmer, 28, long-distance travel by bus usually means something very specific: getting to and from his hometown of Pittsburgh during the holidays.
It’s a routine — and route — familiar from childhood when he and his sister would take Megabus to Manhattan to visit cousins for New Year’s. Otherwise, Gilmer, now an artist with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, hasn’t really been a regular bus rider, apart from local commutes and occasional road tours to nearby cities with the dance company.
Every time there’s a new variant, the brakes go on and people pull back again.”
“But many people who would never get on a regular bus would probably jump out of their cars if they were given our kind of bus option,” Cirigliano said.
“For the first time, we have three big national brands: Greyhound, Megabus and now FlixBus,” he said. (FlixBus USA parent FlixMobility acquired Greyhound on Oct. 21, but the brands have not been integrated.)
“They each feel pressure to keep up with the latest tech conveniences, [such as] mobile boarding passes and bus tracker programs, and Megabus even has reserved seats,” said Schwieterman. “All three also stress value — rival service at an attractive price.”
One trend that’s picked up steam in the last five years is business- or first-class motorcoach lines that offer point-to-point service along with limited, luxury seating; food and drinks; and, in some cases, on-board attendants. They are also competitively priced compared to rail and air offerings on similar routes, and are often highly discounted in comparison.
"A whole new breed of business-class services are wooing airport-weary flyers,”
“There’s a whole new breed of business-class services that are wooing airport-weary flyers,” said Schwieterman. “The sweet spot is a distance of between 125 miles and 250 miles — maybe 300 on the absolute upside — where it’s short enough that a bus trip doesn’t take an eternity.”
One obvious candidate is the New York-to-Washington corridor. The approximately 225-mile-long route is already served by airline shuttles, Amtrak and several discount motorcoach lines, yet new entrant The Jet launched direct, first-class service between Hudson Yards in Manhattan and D.C.’s Metro Center in November, starting at $99 one way.
That fare, on a route where a business-class airline ticket can run $250 and up, gets passengers a reserved “HoverSeat” motion-canceling seat with a 45-degree recline, fast-streaming Wi-Fi; on-demand attendant service; and access to a large upscale restroom. In a nod to both comfort and Covid-awareness, the number of seats was reduced to 14, from a planned 19; rows are spaced 6 feet apart, and a state-of-the-art UV air filtration system was installed. The JetSet rewards program will launch soon, as well.
The real standout aboard is the HoverSeat, the first-ever application of existing commercial technology to passenger service, according to Chad Scarborough, founder and CEO. An active, independent seat suspension reads what’s happening beneath riders 100 times per second — and reacts accordingly.
“If it feels a bump, it measures the bump and then moves the seat in the exact opposite direction to counteract it,” he said, noting that leg rests and tray tables move in sync with the seat. “So you end up just kind of floating for the whole ride … seeing the bus bounce around you.”
Rethinking intercity bus travel
Scarborough said he wanted to completely rethink intercity travel. “We’re trying to eliminate all the pain points [and] create a truly first-class experience from background through destination — but at a very reasonable price,” he said.
The Jet is offering two nonstop departures a day between New York and Washington between Friday and Sunday. Scarborough hopes to scale up to four departures per day, every day of the week, come spring, and is also considering other point-to-point nonstop services in the two metro areas.
Other motorcoach lines have been offering deluxe direct services for years.
C&J Bus Lines recently upped frequencies of its existing services between New York and three cities in New England. Its buses to Portsmouth and Seabrook in New Hampshire and Tewksbury, Massachusetts, feature first-class double or single seating, power outlets, Wi-Fi and a self-service refreshment galley.
For its part, RedCoach — which has transported more than 25 million business and leisure travel passengers in the last decade on its existing Florida routes —expanded on Oct. 15 to Texas, connecting Austin, Dallas and Houston (with stops in Waco and College Station) with its fleet of 27-seat first-class or 38-seat business-class motorcoaches. Maximum one-way fares on Texas routes range from $60 to $120.
“When people try our seating and experience the comfort, the Wi-Fi [and] the convenience of our [drop-off] locations compared to flying and going through the TSA and all, they’re kind of hooked,” said Cirigliano. What’s more, unlike airlines, RedCoach doesn’t charge for seat assignments or luggage (two pieces and a carry-on are allowed for free) and some routes offer on-board refreshments. The firm also offers a loyalty rewards program, called RedRiders.
The Covid-19 pandemic may have hit many transportation companies hard since March 2020, but RedCoach never stopped operating its lower-density coaches and, the de facto on-board social distancing thanks to fewer seats became a selling point, she said. Now, rising gases prices are making the line’s routes look even better to many Texans and Floridians who might other drive themselves.
“With all the wear and tear, the mileage and how much it costs to fill your tank, [driving] adds up,” Cirigliano said. “We’re luxury but also affordable and we want to make this concept available to everybody.”
Changing passengers’ mindset
Schwieterman at DePaul University estimates that a dozen motorcoach lines have now gotten into the game. “Most of the premium brands are special offerings by mainstream carriers,” he said.
For example, Vamoose, with service on the New York-Washington corridor, now offers up to four Vamoose Gold departures a day, with 34 wider leather seats (compared to their standard coach-class of 56), more leg room, reading lights, in-seat power and bottled water. Other lines with premium offerings include BestBus, competing with Vamoose; Dartmouth, another New York-New England operator; and Vonlone, in Texas and Oklahoma.
“Branding services as premium does reassure travelers who have reservations about buses,” said Schwieterman. “It’s a game-changer if done correctly and these business-class operators are going to have an easier task of winning over reluctant customers.”
October 16, 2021
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