Can new bus lines chart a course to better travel options in the West?
A European bus company is expanding options for regional travel. High-speed rail could be next.
FlixBus, a European company founded in Germany in 2013, first launched routes in California, Nevada and Arizona in 2018 and has since expanded to Utah, Washington, a sliver of Idaho and Oregon. They’ve entered an increasingly popular industry for city-to-city transport, with competitors like BoltBus, Megabus and the upscale Cabin bus, an overnight sleeper connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. All of these brands have emerged in the last decade as alternatives to Greyhound, the only nationwide bus service.
To differentiate itself in a growing field, FlixBus targets passengers looking for perks like reliable Wi-Fi and charging outlets. The company also tries to meet younger riders where they are, like on the campus of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. On a chilly December day with low clouds and foggy breath lingering in the air, two CWU students caught the bus heading to Seattle. “It’s way easier to access a bus that comes to your campus,” said Leilani Salu, who was riding FlixBus for the first time. “And even when you get dropped off in places like Seattle, it’s convenient because it’s right next to the light rail.” A driver who worked the Thanksgiving holiday weekend said the buses were packed with students.
In general, Millennials and the now coming-of-age members of Generation Z are more attracted to lifestyles that don’t rely on cars. A 2014 study by the Public Interest Research Group, for example, found that Millennials are less likely to drive and more likely to either use public transit or bike than generations before them were as young adults.
As concerns grow over the environmental impacts of travel, policy solutions could favor bus companies. While figures shift based on capacity, when buses are full they are the most carbon-efficient form of long distance travel in the United States, according to Joseph Schwieterman, the director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development and an expert on regional transportation. And that could become a big deal as Western states develop plans to rein in and possibly tax carbon emissions. “The single biggest policy to jump-start bus travel would be a fee on carbon use,” he said.