Survival and Prosperity, Part 5: Whining, Yawning and Dying

Maybe these are the three genuine stages of life. They certainly appear to be for the U.S. motorcoach industry.

In parts 1-4 of this series, I identified the greatest opportunity for motorcoach growth in decades (see https://transalt.com/article/survival-and-prosperity-part-1-magic-corridors/), followed by describing the major features of the vehicle that could accomplish this feat (https://transalt.com/article/survival-and-prosperity-part-2-the-magic-coach/), and finally outlining some innovative operating approaches to maximize ridership and profits when deploying a few (see https://transalt.com/article/survival-and-prosperity-part-4-service-concepts/).

At least a handful of operators are listening – unless, of course, they saw these opportunities before I did. Recently a few tour companies have been expanding into medium-distance airline corridors – with traditional coaches not modified to compete with these services, and in my opinion, deploying them in the wrong sector (charter service) – just as Uber has begun doing, at much higher fares with much smaller and bumpier vehicles, in the same sector (see Houston Chronicle. )

But mostly, National Bus Trader readers, members of the motorcoach industry, and perhaps their information-sharing/lobbying groups are not listening. Unless they are just yawning. I say “perhaps” about the UMA and ABA (both of which I support aggressively). With a relative handful of constituents and a thimbleful of financial resources, they must face off against a monolith airline industry, with its tens of millions of constituents who choose or (by their naivete) are snookered into taking hundreds of millions of trips every year. And they must face down a corrupt bipartisan Congress whose members’ war chests are swollen with funding from this monolith. So if the motorcoach industry’s most essential sector – the intercity/scheduled service sector – will not fall into the sea, it will be because a handful of individuals with vision are fighting for this sector’s life.

Perhaps some heroic OEM — with vision and antennae – will come to the rescue. Perhaps not.

Soothsaying and Evidence

Watching out for its readers’ backs, National Bus Trader has regularly warned and advised its readers about trends that came to pass while the rank-and-file glazed over with passivity and impotence. In “The Price of Digital Madness” National Bus Trader (August 2001), (see https://transalt.com/?s=Price+of+Digital+Madness ), I warned readers about squandering 9-1-1 rescue funds on useless technology. Not surprisingly, we did. Eight months later I followed this warning with the solution (see “Man’s Best Friend” at https://transalt.com/article/mans-best-friend/ ). Because of other shameful failures, I have yet to see even a service dog aboard a motorcoach – even while I see plenty on transit buses and subways. No one paid attention to “Reviewing Drivers’ Logs” (see https://transalt.com/article/reviewing-drivers-logs/ ) or nine articles about driver fatigue until we were recently saddled with electronic on-board recorders.
From “The Multipurpose Bus” (see https://transalt.com/article/the-multipurpose-bus/ ) to nine instalments titled, “Buying Tomorrow’s Buses Today” (see https://transalt.com/article/buying-tomorrows-buses-today-part-1-introduction/ through https://transalt.com/article/buying-tomorrows-buses-today-part-9-accessibility-and-securement/, and then a year’s worth of articles titled “Making More Money” (see National Bus Trader, January, 2012 through December 12), I provided visions of countless opportunities for motorcoach profits.

I also authored seven articles about our nation’s interdisciplinary failure to prevent transportation network companies (TNCs) from decimating the taxi industry (see https://transalt.com/article/bad-regulations-and-worse-responses-part-1-introduction/ through https://transalt.com/article/bad-regulations-and-worse-responses-part-7-conclusions/). It clearly did. Now, these behemoths who prosper largely by stealing and selling the personal information of their passengers and everyone in their passengers’ social media networks are operating schoolbuses in San Francisco and Los Angeles – although this TNC (ZUM) may not (at least not yet) be engaging in these same criminal shenanigans. I also authorized nine admonitions about driverless vehicles: “Autonomous and Inevitable” (see https://transalt.com/article/autonomous-and-inevitable-part-1-what-is-to-come-and-what-is-already-here/ through https://transalt.com/article/autonomous-and-inevitable-part-9-conclusion-the-best-of-both-worlds/) and another eight articles titled “Drivers v. Robots” (see https://transalt.com/article/drivers-v-robots-part-1/ through https://transalt.com/article/drivers-v-robots-part-8-collecting-the-fares-skimming-the-passengers/) – which will soon eliminate most bus-driving jobs, and millions of truck-driving jobs — even while the same group of oligarchs have eliminated most stores. (Remember stores?) I even outlined useful, lucrative roles motorcoaches could have played in the Heart of Covid (see “What’s in Store for the Post-COVID Era Motorcoach Industry” at https://transalt.com/article/whats-in-store-for-the-post-covid-era-motorcoach-industry/).

This current article is the fifth in a series outlining how the motorcoach industry could make a killing from the decline of the Airline Industry – an industry whose corruption I outlined in great detail in “Expanding the Mode Split Dividing Line, Part 1: Exponential Airline Industry Corruption (see https://transalt.com/article/expanding-the-mode-split-dividing-line-part-1-exponential-airline-industry-corruption/ ). In the March, 2022 issue of National Bus Trader, I even outlined the features and characteristics of a vehicle that could capture a huge share of our commercial airline business (see https://transalt.com/article/survival-and-prosperity-part-2-the-magic-coach/).

Chaos and Soothsaying
My crystal ball is pretty damned accurate – even while it is invisible, as have National Bus Trader’s tireless efforts to warn its readers of the multitude of safety and liability pitfalls along its vehicles’ paths, as well as identifying opportunity after opportunity for survival and prosperity (the theme of this current series).

But while we may be alone as predictors, we are not alone as evidence:
As noted above, a TNC (ZUM) recently landed a $150,000,000 contract to provide schoolbus service to 6500 students in San Francisco. On July 1st, this same TNC landed a $400,000,000 contract to provide schoolbus service to the students of Los Angeles. If these examples are to distant or obscure to catch your attention, the next day The Dallas Morning News announced that Uber would begin operating charter service between Dallas and Ft. Worth. Concurrently, an article in an obscure publication titled, Tradingpedia noted that, this last year, fully half the world’s flights were cancelled (see …google-searches-for-flight-cancelled-skyrocket-in-june-2022-amid-wordwide-airport-chaos/ — Facebook does not allow the use of the website.). Unlike my March, 2022 article and this one, Tradingpedia did not pinpoint the obvious goal behind these cancellations – much less lament about the millions of airline passengers inconvenienced or stranded to bring about this oligarch’s dream: The elimination of almost every flight not packed elbow to elbow, full of maskless passengers and, more recently, maskless flight attendants — serving gourmet food (on coast-to-coast flights) like Oreos and Cheetos.

Month after month, commercial airline travel is becoming increasingly corrupt, and increasingly unbearable. Yet the motorcoach industry’s opportunities to jump into the void are passing before our lazy eyes and lazy brains like the vapors from long-forgotten sugarplums. Before the next saga of my personal experience (a pair of coast-to-coast flights for which, in fairness, motorcoach service could not reasonably have competed), it would benefit National Bus Trader readers to get yet another a broad perspective a year after its preview in the August, 2021 issue of National Bus Trader noted above (see Expanding the mode split dividing line part: 1 exponential airline industry corruption).

As noted, my experiences have hardly been unique. And I have had the good fortune not to be among the airline industry’s worst victims. Admittedly from a news source not disguising its objectives, RedState Blog recently ran an article (June 19, 2022) titled “Air Travel in the U.S. Descends Into Chaos” (see https://redstate.com/bobhoge/2022/06/19/un-american-air-travel-in-the-us-descends-into-chaos-n581086?utm_source=rsmorningbriefing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nl&bcid=cbba3cf0c00effd74646643814aafedf). (With effort, someone with an open mind, and not snookered, can find real news at both ends of the political spectrum.) The cover photo of New York’s La Guardia Airport – one of my least favorite – almost spoke for itself: Before a third completed years ago, that phase was torn down, and with scores of billions in taxpayers’ money, its construction began all over again – shades of Mid-America Airport (30 miles west of St. Louis) – built nearly 50 years ago and finally opened in 1997! (This boondoggle currently has 27 “based aircraft.” Last year it provided 245, 028 trips – enough to fill more than two large stadiums for one day each, and enough to dwarf the daily patronage of even the world’s largest single airport. Otherwise, the RedState Blog highlighted a few insightful trends:

Over 10,000 flights had been “cancelled” in the past week alone.

As I had noted in past articles, the most common excuse was “weather” and “staffing shortages” (pilots, crew and air traffic control).

Tales for the Choiceless
These excuses are, of course, hogwash (readers must excuse my use of such soft language).The real truth is that commercial airlines are not required to operate with spares. Worse, they “cancel” all or most of their less-than-elbow-to-elbow flights with impunity. This allows them to operate an even smaller, more-crowded fleet. (Consistent with the RedState Blog’s politics, this worldwide trend was actually blamed on the Biden Administration’s requirements for airline staff to be vaccinated – never mind the bulk of the globe which The Biden Administration made no effort to vaccinate. But seasoned traveler as I am, with a memory of half-filled flights not so long ago, and despite knowing the key to selecting a seat next to one that would least likely be occupied, I was forced onto a delayed Delta flight (about which I was notified at the last minute) only three weeks ago.

In this same news sources, USDOT Secretary Buttigieg’s solution to “punish the airlines” was mocked. One should expect such a response in a country where our former President coordinated a re-enactment of the War of 1812 encapsulated in our national anthem – although the more-current version led only to five crummy deaths and a few broken windows. Nonetheless, Pete Buttigieg notwithstanding, the airline industry’s corruption continues unabated. Otherwise, with tactics that exponentially increase profits, it would seem that airlines could actually afford to pay their crews a tad more. Of course, for this to happen, we might have to actually have to tax individuals and corporations that have money.

Obviously, nothing is quite this simple. Particularly this past year, we have witnessed a rebellion by low-paid employees, countered by an increased frenzy to eliminate any and all benefits, and turn America into “The 1099 Country.” As the costs of supporting this nation’s struggling, corrupt and grossly-inefficient transportation operations are increasingly shifted to individuals like pilots and other travel personnel (lest higher fares empty out a few more seats, and risk making the spiral more noticeable), one should understand this ruse of a personnel shortage. Personally, I suspect that many airline workers are decently paid (all things considered) and thoroughly vaccinated, if only out of legitimate personal concerns, given their work environment. They are certainly better off the the majority of the World’s population, many of whom are fortunate to sleep on a mat next to their manually-pedaled sewing machines. Otherwise, I don’t like the thought of unvaccinated security personnel rubbing my testicles and buttocks before almost every flight even if they wear latex gloves in the process (as though I were a porcupine).
The personal tale of travel horrors experienced by the writer of the RedState Blog article is worse than most of mine. But my tale is designed to focus on corruption and inconvenience that motorcoach operators can compete with – in many cases, almost effortlessly. (I would recommend the reader first skim through the overview of my first travelog last year [see Survival and prosperity part 1: Magic corridors])

Oligopolies and Impunity

The sample size of my airline travel horrors cannot support any notion that Delta Airlines is any worse than those of its competitors (although my personal experiences suggest that Southwest Airlines is a dramatic exception). Of course, I can support every last detail of my recent experience on this trip. (For readers unfamiliar with my career, I examine, organize and opine on evidence for a living.) Otherwise, while the mathematical symbol “delta” signifies “difference,” the experiences of Delta’s passengers do not appear to make the slightest difference to Delta executives:

  • After 45 minutes of agony on the phone (most airline websites break down at some point, so I have long ago given up using them other than for orientation), and a $25 charge for the three minutes a live reservation clerk spent assisting me, I was given an outbound flight from JFK to Seattle/Tacoma Airport scheduled to depart, on June 11th, at 6:25 PM.
  • The day of my departure, I awakened to a notice that my flight had been changed to a different 8:48 PM flight – which meant I was now transferred to a “red-eye” flight, not favorable for someone having a commitment early the next morning. Regardless, the robot’s message informed me that, “We apologize for the inconvenience.” If robots could laugh, they would. Delta’s executives and shareholders certainly must be, even without sodium pentothal.
  • Of course my flight departed at least an hour late, and then spent at least another hour on the runway. So, facing the headwinds one naturally does flying west, I arrived at my hotel at roughly 3:15 AM PST – 15 hours after leaving my home two hours away from the departure airport in the time zone of my flights origin.
  • Luckily I had purchased solid food outside the terminal beforehand – and with a sliver of time left over from the usual security check-in labyrinth and my routine pat-down, I found time to grab a real meal at a restaurant inside the terminal. Yet once in the air, I was surprised to learn that I could have obtained a reasonable meal on board – had I been willing to overpay for it.
  • In fairness, to compensate me for my departure nearly five hours behind schedule, I was generously given a pair of ear buds, gratis. Hooey.
  • My return flight the next day was at an inconvenient hour since the airlines, collectively, had slimmed down the choices considerably to keep their aircraft full. But at least that flight took off less than an hour behind schedule. But these things combined, plus my two-hour commute home from my arrival at JFK (and a 45-minute wait in a taxi-line – hardly Delta’s fault, but a routine part of the commercial airline travel experience), I arrived home at 3:15 AM EST. As it were, the disruptive flight time changes and other inconveniences got me sick for four days (starting the night of arrival at my destination).
  • With its array of TV shows, movies and extensive entertainment package, I was all set to watch Game 5 of the NBA finals on the return trip. However, as this game was broadcast on ABC, I learned that all the basic TV stations (from which an airline could not derive revenue) were blocked. Instead, I was told I could access the game, on my cellphone, in “airplane mode,” through the airplane’s wifi system. Checking a source for this that didn’t even cite the length of time for the “package,” I found the cheapest option for doing this was $39.95: I had no idea to what else (if anything) this fee would entitle me, if this would even work, no way to obtain a refund if it did not, no technical help on board to assist me if it failed, and no way to stop the “pilot” from blocking this station through some other methodology: My flight attendant had initially misinformed me that the pilot had “rebooted” the system twice already, and risked blocking more stations if he had tried to reboot it again. In fairness, for travelers who enjoy being entertained by fairy tales, I had a chance to watch one although I would have preferred watching the game. (But I did get to use the free air buds.)
  • Limited Choices but Better Options
    As noted, this was a story about a coast-to-coast flight. So an alternative by motorcoach would have taken several more days. So too would have travel by AMTRAK, although my sleeping compartment (and likely a dining car) would have made the trip exponentially more enjoyable (especially as I would have missed the pseudo-security genital-and-buttocks pat down). Otherwise, the airlines enjoy complete impunity for anything and everything they do. As there is no recourse for losing all this time, or the other inconveniences — including the bumps and dips of turbulence. To be fair, roadways have their bumps and dips too – although a pneumatic suspension system tends to lessen their severity, and often make them unnoticeable. Lies and mythology about weather and staffing shortages notwithstanding, what transportation business of any kind is going to not operate a $100M vehicle with 300 passengers to shave a few dollars of pay from each of a sextet of onboard workers, a mechanic or two, a minimum-wage cleaning crew and a handful of subcontracted 1099 worker “redcaps?”

    But these are not the choices a traveler has for a mid-distance flight (once again, see Survival and prosperity part 1: Magic corridors
    and Survival and prosperity part 2: The magic coach). Or hark back to the days of Auld America, where worldwide travel was as challenging as a few hours on the couch (see “The Nature of Modern Travel” in National Bus Trader, September, 2019).

    The only sensible conclusion one can and should draw from this synthesis of personal and institutional experiences and abuses is that an industry that cannot compete against the unfettered treachery and fraud of commercial airlines on a 250- to 750-mile trip does not deserve to exist or survive. Plain and simple: If you cannot outperform this swamp of merde at the marketing and operating levels, you do not deserve to make a living from it. So as motorcoach service fades to a skeleton of its former self (see U.S. taxicab industry, and more recently the U.S. schoolbus industry), it will do so without a dollop of sympathy from this author.

    Instead of experiencing the horrors enumerated above, a mid-distance motorcoach passenger could involve or include:

  • Travel from city center to city center, with no taxi or other feeder service, no small-city-sized parking labyrinth
  • Gourmet food from the departure city’s finest restaurants nuked to near freshness (or the fast food of your choice whose reheating could not possibly be noted by one’s tastebuds)
    The beverage of your choice, on or off the rocks
  • Fully-reclining seats, with raised leg rests (and noise-cancelling shooting range headphones sinking into your puffy pillow and a simple darkness-inducing sleep mask)
  • A closet for hanging up your next day’s suit or other non-foldables.
  • Two hot (or cold) showers (with unlimited towels and toiletries)
  • Two restrooms considerably larger than aircraft depositories
  • Must– more legroom (especially in the First Class section), with coach seats comparable to business-class airline seats
  • A pneumatic suspension system (in place of pockets of turbulence – though perhaps less fun for the kids)
  • No endless security lines (or security lines of any type), where one can keep his or her shoes and belt on – although some passengers might miss those intimate pat-downs
  • No need for hour-long phone reservations, indecipherable (and often broken) websites – and where available, travel via “walk on”
  • Exponential energy savings and air quality improvements.
  • Of course, passengers would have this experience at a tiny fraction of the cost, and in far less time for almost every middle-distance trip. And with some travelers riding in the First Class section, coach fares would likely be the same, or possibly less, than those for a conventional motorcoach trip of the same length.

    As the saying should go, “You can bring a horse to water. But it should not have to travel far to vomit.” But if that is all you accomplish, you truly deserve to become a memory.