Survival and Prosperity, Part 3: The Gains of Winning, The Cost of Failure

In Part 1 of this series, I identified a gaping hole of opportunity for profitable motorcoach service – in countless corridors where intermediate-distance travel is provided only by commercial airlines. In earlier installments, I exposed the travesties of the commercial airline industry (Southwest Airlines excluded) which make travel of any distance by Today’s commercial airlines an expensive, inconvenient-at-best obstacle course (see https://transalt.com/article/drivers-v-robots-part-2-the-nature-of-modern-travel/). I explored this sector’s corruption in great detail (see https://transalt.com/article/expanding-the-mode-split-dividing-line-part-1-exponential-airline-industry-corruption/). These factors render a mode-split from small- and medium-distance commercial airline flights to luxury motorcoach travel an extraordinary opportunity. All we need is the right vehicle, described in detail in Part 2 of this series (see “The Magic Coach” in National Bus Trader, March, 2022).

These opportunities are also available in corridors served by heavily-subsidized AMTRAK, also saturated with corruption (see Covid 19 shenanigans and liability part 2: making money by compromising health) and safety compromises (see safetycompromises.com). A 2011 study of 20 AMTRAK lines found the subsidies on the least efficient cost $422.39 per one-way passenger trip. In contrast, unsubsidized travel on the Magic Coach would generate tax revenue. But travel by AMTRAK is at least convenient for those residing by, and traveling to, somewhere near the stops in this monopoly’s skeletal network of lines. This is true even if costs are several times greater, and occasionally a tad faster, than those for the same trip by motorcoach.

Part 1 also included a broad sample of airline-vacant corridors in which extraordinary opportunities for motorcoach service (with a slightly-modified vehicle) exist for short-distance trips (up to 200 to 250 miles) and intermediate-distance trips (250 to 750 miles). So you do not even need a consultant to identify the most-lucrative opportunities or conduct your preliminary planning. With these articles, National Bus Trader did the “heavy lifting” for you.

In Part 2 of this series, I outlined the basic characteristics of the vehicle that would lure the greatest percentage of current commercial airline passengers to “mode split” from short- and middle-distance trips onto motorcoaches. (See https://transalt.com/article/survival-and-prosperity-part-2-the-magic-coach/. ) Were such a vehicle available, most passengers taking such trips by commercial airline would be stupid or ignorant – with the exception of those who lived or worked near an airport and whose destination was also close to one. Filling up ten or 20 thousand motorcoaches from this mode split would hardly require the entire airline ridership to change its travel habits. Its success would only need a small percentage of this flying flock to do so. The fact that most of the changes needed to transform an existing motorcoach into The Magic Coach involve mostly “non-engineering changes” – most of them above the floor level. This reality makes the transformation at the OEM matter relatively easy – and increased costs of the vastly-improved vehicle modest. All that is needed is for one OEM to make one.

This endeavor should not be difficult to trigger with a smattering of interest expressed for such vehicles. Realistically, a few dozen “letters of interest” submitted to various OEMs (or more efficiently to National Bus Trader) would likely induce an OEM or two to at least cobble together a convincing prototype. Because the opportunities are there, so too are this vehicle’s buyers.

The Magic Coach: Why and How

Both past installments (see National Bus Trader, February, March, 2022) included some arguments for passengers mode-splitting from short- and medium-distance commercial airline flights to service provided by The Magic Coach. This third installment will consolidate all the arguments for buying and deploying such a vehicle – and re-restructuring one’s operations to take advantage of the opportunities. But these opportunities were never realized because the vehicle to accommodate them was not available. As soon as some OEM makes one, all this will change.

The next installment will provide some design concepts for what the transit industry calls “route deviation” or “point deviation.” Such concepts, and others, will expand coverage without greatly increasing travel time or cost. But with a sound knowledge of the geography (with help, when necessary, from online maps), these concepts can be stretched, exploited and optimized for intercity motorcoach travel. The most imaginative of us are already doing this – even with vehicles not remotely optimized to tilt the competition our way. But the vast, fat corridors unserved by commercial airlines, combined with the perfect vehicle, provide far more and greater opportunities.

Goodbye to the Past

COVID changed a lot of things, even as it appears to be waning. And many of these changes are permanent, even if no virus manages to outsmart Moderna and Pfizer, and no new variant returns with a vengeance.

Many of those who can work remotely are not likely to return “to the office” – or at least not regularly.

Other trends that stifled motorcoach business, and everything else, are finally becoming more apparent. Among the most important are the decreasing wealth of so many Americans, and the continued erosion of the Middle Class. More recently, gasoline prices have shot up. So even with over-extended gobs of Federal funds for charging stations and related electric vehicle infrastructure, the capital costs of electric vehicle ownership lies beyond the ability of many Americans to purchase them. The days of cheap gasoline are over.

While some of these trends suggest that some conventional tour and charter service will return, it is unlikely to ever return to its pre-COVID levels (see https://transalt.com/article/motorcoach-survival-in-the-age-of-covid-19-part-3-the-end-of-charter-and-tour-service-for-now/ ). For those who do not follow National Bus Trader regularly – a mistake for anyone in the bus business since National Bus Trader covers many critical trends in ALL public transportation modes – ridership on even fixed route transit had declined by roughly10 percent nationwide during the two years before anyone ever heard the word ‘COVID-19.” Plus transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, which destroyed the often-reliable, rapidly-responding taxi industry, are siphoning off a significant amount of fixed route ridership (further increasing the burden on taxpayers). And at least one large TNC had penetrated the schoolbus sector. A few have made small inroads into the motorcoach sector. And these ruthless competitors whose profits are being enhanced by all type and manner of regulatory violations and illegal activity have been at it for less than a decade. And look how far they have come!

For reasons I will write about more in future installments, this trend will hurt the motorcoach industry deeply. In order to stay ahead of it – including overcoming driver shortages – we must keep a wide open mind. And we must aggressively pursue new opportunities where we find them. And where we do not find them, we must make them. Deploying the Magic Coach in the Magic Corridors is the best chance to do both. As noted above, and in previous installments, a market for thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, of highly-profitable motorcoach vehicles is just waiting for us. We simply need the vehicle. But, again, to get it, we must ask for it.

Pros and Pros

Unless someone with money to squander lives close to an airport, there are no long-range pros to taking intermediate-length trips by commercial airlines. But there is a severe short- and medium-range pro for it: There are often no viable alternatives. The Magic Coach will put an end to this gaping hole in the U.S. public transportation network – or what USDOT and APTA spokespersons call a “seamless transportation system.” They seem to not notice the gaping holes that TNCs recently widened in this exaggerated mythology.
Plugging one major gaping hole, the Magic Coach has countless pros. Among them:

  • Far lower fares
  • Easy access at a handful of inner-city pickup/drop-off points, as well as a few other convenient stops along the way
  • Fully-reclining seats
  • Two restrooms
  • Two showers
  • The ability to heat & serve gourmet food, OK food and fast foot, and hot and cold beverages – throughout the entire trip (from two or three microwaves and a small fridge or two)
  • Separate First Class and “coach” seating section
  • Blankets, sheets, pillows, pillow cases, towels – and a way to keep them clean
  • An on-board attendant
  • Two hanging clothes closets
  • Light-and-sound curtains to surround every seat (for privacy, sleeping comfort and virus protection)
  • Fold-down work trays
  • Extra legroom (in the First Class section)
  • Footrests and padded leg rests, which can be elevated
  • TV, movies, music, Wi-Fi, electrical sockets – with real headphones
  • An onboard washer/dryer
  • A lower, ramp-equipped vestibule (ideally) that can be configured for multiple purposes
  • These pros do not even consider the elimination of time-draining hassles that accompany airline travel, including unexpected cancellations, unrequested flight changes and trip reservation obstacle courses. In contrast, a key Magic Coach amenity would be a company that actually answers its phones immediately, with a live Earthling. Otherwise, with one’s sleep mask and shooting-range noise-deadening headphones, the coach’s natural lateral roll would rock the passengers to sleep. This would not be desirable for those who prefer turbulence, in seats that barely recline. But I suspect these are the same folks who like to remove and replace their shoes and belts, empty out their pockets and have their thighs and genitals patted down after waiting in a long line for these treats. And the same folks who enjoy the choice of music that airlines play when one is on hold for hours to reach someone whose five-minute phone chat costs an extra $25. But I suspect even these passengers are not crazy about the 90-minutes-in-advance check ins, the high percentage of departure delays, the consolidation and stranding, the lousy overpriced fast food they must carry onboard, and the limited flight and flight time choices – much less from a transportation mode that has no spare or backup vehicles.

    Finally, were a creative, profit-driven OEM expanding on The Magic Coach to emerge, imagine what more could be done with a double-decker bus! Consequently, imagine how much lower the fares would be.

    What makes this possible is partly imagination. But the key factors are geometry, geography, distance, varying densities, road conditions, roadway choices, speed limits and, of course, time. Great, decent and poor food lie everywhere for ground transportation modes. But you can find delays, inconvenience, high fares, cookies, bad instant coffee, sodas, juice, turbulence and slightly-reclining narrow seats with little legroom only on flights – although they may not go where you need to, even when you are not bumped to a different, much-longer, often-indirect flight with a long layover that you did not even reserve.

    Proof of Concept
    Over my 22 years of monthly National Bus Trader columns on “Safety and Liability,” I have often footnoted concepts of dangerous and reckless with the concept of stupid. So for those of you who recall a smidgeon of geography, or who have five seconds to glance at a map, think about how stupid it is to cover a two-dimensional space with a handful of rail lines spaced far apart that connect a handful of major and medium-size cities. Similarly, think how stupid it is to fill in the gaps by relying on absurdly-expensive, time-wasting, costly, energy-wasting, highly-polluting vehicles which must defy gravity to move anywhere from their extravagantly-expensive terminals surrounded by square miles of paved tarmac.

    Regarding energy and pollution, I am hardly alone in my feelings about this comparison. The Swedes have actually added two words to their vocabulary: ‘Flygskam’ (which means “flight shame”) and ‘tagskyrt’ (which means “train brag” – the act of bragging, often on social media, about making more climate-friendly travel choices.) It takes little brainpower to understand the consequences of doing otherwise: One merely needs to skim through the extraordinary collage of climate change damage, in 193 countries, published in an article titled, “Postcards from a World on Fire” on January 1, 2022, by the NYTimes (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/12/13/opinion/climate-change-effects-countries.html). Traveling when possible – much less when overwhelmingly beneficial to one’s self interest – by ground transportation makes a small contribution to limiting further climate deterioration. It is only the failure, greed and corruption of the World’s rich and famous that such choices have not become formal regulatory policy.

    Now: Think about how even more stupid such alternatives are when we already have a saturation of roads and highways so thick that 60 percent of the land masses of many cities are covered with asphalt. A single bus or motorcoach carries as many passengers as 40 cars. So why would public policy run counter to such innovation? Oops, I forgot: The airlines have far-larger lobbying groups. Plus, what Congressperson would be swayed by a free bus trip?

    If you wish to whine about your crumbling motorcoach business, do not dare do so in my presence. Instead, you might think about sending a simple email about your interest in this concept to lplachno@busmag.com (preferably) or even to einstein@transalt.com. Or you could post your interest on social media. Or you could email your Congressman or Congresswoman. Otherwise, counter to the cliché, good things do not come to those who wait. They come to those to act.