Buses Up Their Cool Factor

Rail isn’t the only form of mass transit getting a makeover. Long-distance and local buses are beginning to look a little less shabby and a little more chic to cash-strapped and environmentally conscious riders.

HealthLine bus in Cleveland

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority debuted the HealthLine in fall 2008 as a rapid transit line, moving passengers from Public Square to University Circle in 20 minutes flat. Photo: Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority

United Kingdom-based Megabus has made inroads in the United States and Canada with its clean, efficient and affordable service to dozens of cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Many routes are just $1 for a one-way ticket—a rate that will be available for a handful of seats on each coach even after an introductory promotion. Even notoriously gritty Greyhound recently underwent a $60 million makeover for improved vehicles, new terminals and a slick new advertising campaign. The company’s new Bolt Bus line between New York City and Washington, D.C., is equipped with roomy seats, power outlets and Wi-Fi, and is priced to compete with the Amtrak line that travels that route.

Joe Calabrese, CEO and general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, is not surprised by these trends. Cleveland’s public transit ridership is up for the sixth year in a row—the first time since 1975 ridership increases have been sustained for that long.

"Initially, using public transit was a financial decision, but once people tried it they saw that it met their needs and stuck with it," Calabrese says.

Since 2000, Cleveland has expanded its park-and ride facilities and upgraded many coaches to deluxe buses. In the past 13 months the system imposed two fare increases of 25 cents each—yet there was not one complaint or any rider drop-off, Calabrese says. "I need more capacity. That is a great problem to have."