A new startup, called Landline, is going to experiment with operating fleets of buses as if they were regional airlines, and this approach has a lot of potential to expand bus ridership while reducing air travel to and from the smallest cities.
Offering bus service between airports and small cities with little or no air service isn’t really new. Airport shuttles have been doing this for a long time, and other services like Greyhound also offer service between most places.
The difference with Landline is the way they plan to integrate the service into the overall air travel system. By being a part of the airlines’ normal business, riders experience a seamless service.
When passengers book air travel, they don’t book separate flights with each airline and plan their layovers. The whole process happens by computer, and because the regional airlines are part of the system, airlines do things like wait for passengers coming from delayed planes or reschedule those who missed their connecting flight due to no fault of their own. Separately booking a bus from a company like Greyhound, on the other hand, has none of those benefits.
In fact, people often don’t even know when they’ve switched from one airline to another. Big airlines often buy all of the seats on the plane of a regional airline, allow the regional to use their paint schemes, and even clothe the crew in the big airline’s uniforms.
While buses are probably not going to go to this extreme of integration, the ability to book a bus ride at the same time as your ticket, have a guarantee of getting a flight even if the bus is delayed, and otherwise having ease of using the bus all adds up to people being more likely to use the service.
With all of the bad press the environmental impact of air travel gets, it would seem like a slam dunk that buses would be more environmentally friendly than regional airliners. While that may be true in many cases, it’s complicated.
Airlines have improved in efficiency quite a bit in recent decades while diesel buses have stagnated. Yale Climate Connections gives the full story, but in short, occupancy is a big part of determining which mode of transport is better for the environment. They point out that for a business trip, one person in a gasoline car is actually worse for the environment than riding in a plane. For a family vacation, on the other hand, where you’ll carry several people in the car, the car is the cleaner choice.
If the buses are booked full or mostly full on a trip, the bus may be cleaner. If the buses are less than half occupied, it may actually be better to fly. Which choice is cleaner is going to mostly be out of the customer’s control.
Finally, Yale doesn’t look at electric buses and cars in their analysis. If regional buses operating as part of the air travel system can switch to electric buses, the environmental advantage over air travel would be far more clear in nearly all situations.
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