Bus Travel: A Thing of the Past ... and Future?
The strangers you meet on planes, trains and cruise ships can all be interesting, but for sheer oddball entertainment value you can't beat the folks who take the bus. Conspiracy theorists, get rich quick schemers, people who swear by the Zodiac -- there's really no limit to the wackiness you can be treated to, and all you need is the capacity to nod in appropriate places for hours on end.
There's something about bus travel that encourages this sort of candor, and I think I know what it is: everyone on the bus is acutely aware that everyone else on the bus can't afford any better form of transportation, so putting on airs is simply out of the question. And from there it's just a short mental leap to taking your teeth out in front of a total stranger.
The point to this meditation, and I do have one, is a study just released by DePaul University: "The Return of the Intercity Bus: The Decline and Recovery of Scheduled Service to American Cities, 1960-2007." [PDF] With a title like that, you might think you're in for something excruciatingly boring, and there's some of that, but -- rather like the cross-country bus ride itself -- the report is full of unexpected surprises too.
We learn, for instance, that bus travel was in a state of near destitution -- with precipitous decreases in ridership -- until approximately 18 months ago, when high gas prices and a few enterprising new bus companies combined to produce a situation in which, miraculously, industry growth was somehow possible. And grow it has: Since February 2006, "the number of scheduled runs, or bus departures, across the nation has jumped about 13 percent," according to the study. Companies like Megabus based in Chicago and our own DC2NY are given much credit for this revival. All those newfangled amenities, from plusher seats to onboard movies to Wi-Fi access, are apparently attracting a new kind of bus rider.
And that ... saddens me. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for the industry, which hasn't had any good news in a long time, and will now hopefully turn its attention to the seemingly impossible task of deodorizing bus station restrooms. spend some of its giddy energy on a few other projects, like cleaning up those bus station restrooms. But I worry that the woman hiding the cat in her purse and the man fleeing Child Protective Services in three states are going to get squeezed out, and that the days of their mind-bending monologues will soon be a thing of the past.
What do you think? Forget that, what's the craziest thing you've ever heard on a bus? That's what I really want to know. Tell me the story. And don't worry, no matter how long it is, I promise to nod my way 'til the very end.
By Scott Vogel |
December 28, 2007; 7:23 AM ET
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