The deals on the bus
Michael Scalisi settles into his all-leather chair, pops his PowerBook G4, and jumps online to research a project. Turning his head, he peers out the panoramic window at the auburn and gold New England foliage--which is whizzing by at 65 miles per hour. His highway office comes courtesy of LimoLiner, a luxury motor coach service that began operating between Boston and New York this month. With reclining seats (each with an electrical outlet and ethernet jack), WiFi, TVs tuned to CNN, and an attendant who doles out sandwiches and blankets with a smile, LimoLiner is poised to steal commuters from Amtrak and the airline shuttles. "I've abandoned the Acela," Scalisi says. "This is the most civilized kind of travel I've found."
Buses tend to inspire memories of miserable trips squished up against a broken armrest, not white-collar convenience. But LimoLiner and other upscale transporters are reinventing the wheels that go round and round. Custom buses can come with lounge seating, plasma TVs, marble floors, full bars, and more. In many foreign countries, where motor coaches are not inexorably linked to seedy terminals and sketchy characters, luxury bus is not an oxymoron. America is catching up now, in part because of a post-9/11 fear of flying. "We're changing the perception of travel by motor coach," says Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association.
LimoLiner founder Fergus McCann was fed up with trekking to Logan and LaGuardia airports and taking off his shoes for security checks--and tired of Amtrak's frequent delays. At about four hours, the bus trip is comparable to a regular train run in length, and McCann is confident that no-hassle boarding, Internet access, and other amenities will woo riders. The price is attractive as well--a one-way air shuttle ticket can cost upward of $200, and a first-class seat on the Acela runs $149, but LimoLiner is just $69.
The luxury bus market is already ensconced on routes from Manhattan to Long Island. Riders on either the Hampton Jitney "ambassador service" or the Hampton Luxury Liner get spacious leather seats and onboard snacks. To up the ante, the Luxury Liner's newest vehicles have audio and video entertainment, too.
No wrinkles. Terminals are also tonier. C&J Trailways, which runs from Portsmouth, N.H., to Boston and Logan airport, offers free papers, drinks, and a concierge. "If you're a commuter, you don't have time to pick up your dry cleaning or get your car serviced. We can arrange that," says owner Jim Jalbert.
Folks more into communing than commuting can rent souped-up buses. Corporate groups, brides worrying about smushing their dresses, and tourists have hired out San Diego's Top Dog Limo Bus for $125 an hour. It's got an 18-speaker surround-sound system, a 42-inch projection TV, three granite-top bars, laser lights, and room to dance. In cities outside the Northeast, where distances between cities are often longer and people are more wedded to their cars, this may be the only way to experience opulent bus travel.
Then again, some transportation authorities are experimenting with classier coaches to get more cars off the road. Riverside Transit, which shuttles thousands of Southern Californians, introduced upgraded vehicles in September--flip-down tray tables, 12-volt jacks, reclining seats. On the wish list: restrooms and videos. It's not quite LimoLiner, but the price can't be beaten--an hour's ride for a buck.
Seating. LimoLiner's leather chairs afford 41 inches of legroom.
Meeting. Tables are set up in the back
Excreting. Restrooms sport fresh flowers and gleaming faucets.
This story appears in the November 3, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.