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StreetsBlog: Can ‘Buses-As-Flights’ Get Americans Out of Cars — And Planes?


Can ‘Buses-As-Flights’ Get Americans Out of Cars — And Planes?
Kea Wilson
April 11, 2022

U.S. airlines are beginning to contract with bus companies to run on-the-ground “flights” between nearby cities — and advocates suggesting that the intercity bus should no longer be ignored in the conversation about curbing car and plane dependency.

American Airlines sparked a curious mix of applause and outrage on Twitter last week when it was announced it would join the growing industry trend of replacing short-leg flights with “on-the-ground” alternatives — or, to be more precise, good old-fashioned buses and shuttles.

Tickets for those so-called “buses-as-flights” will be sold exactly as if they were connecting flights, through sites like Kayak and airlines’ own website, and passengers and their luggage will be ferried directly from their homes to the airport — or, in some cases, directly from terminal to terminal — on buses branded to resemble American’s off-the-ground fleet.

“We’re sort of like wallpaper,” said Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association. “You go into a house and you may not notice it, even if you think it’s a pretty room. People don’t think about us — but when we’re not there, that’s when people pay attention.”

Even during the pandemic, when airlines and Amtrak enjoyed some of the most robust public subsidies in American history, motor coach companies still struggled to access the taxpayer dollars they needed to keep routes running. The industry received about $2 billion in federal relief, split between companies like Greyhound and Megabus alongside, as well as passenger ferry operators and the entire school bus industry, which operates the largest fleet of shared transit vehicles in the country; airlines got a handout of $54 billion.

“I think its pretty inequitable,” added Pantuso. “You have to understand that [motorcoaches] are public transportation — we’re just not publicly-funded transportation. We serve a role in a lot of places where there’s no other transportation options. … And when you line up all the modes of transportation, the bus is clearly the cleanest.”

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