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Are Gasoline and Airfare Prices Driving People to Trains and Buses?

June 15, 2008

By Tom Fontaine, Beaver County Times, Pa.

Jun. 15–With airfares and fees and prices at the pump soaring, could this become the Year of the Bus when it comes to recreational travel?

Companies like McCarter Coach and Tour in Chippewa Township, Beaver County’s only bus tour company, sure hope so.

“I think people are nuts for continuing to drive or fly when they can take the bus instead,” said Beverly McCarter, a McCarter Coach and Tour co-owner.

Online research shows bus travel is far more economical than taking planes, trains or automobiles.

But the potential savings aren’t driving more people making inter-city trips onto buses.

At least, not yet.

“Our ridership has been stable so far this year, not up. So that (a ridership boom) hasn’t happened; not yet. We’re waiting for it,” McCarter said.

Dustin Clark, a spokesman for Dallas-based Greyhound, said the company has recently seen an increase in ridership, but he couldn’t attribute that to rising gas prices or airfare.

“We can’t tie that statistically to any one factor. It’s too early to tell what impact gas prices and airfares are having. We do know that the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is always our busiest time of the year. All of our buses are running full,” Clark said.

As a whole, though, ridership has been down at Greyhound over the last four years since the company eliminated 1,000 stops across the country that weren’t profitable or had little or no ridership. That has driven down ridership, which was 18.3 million last year, but fewer stops have meant faster trips for customers, Clark said.

Amtrak, by comparison, had 25.8 million passengers last fiscal year, its fifth straight year of record ridership when comparing the same routes.

Local travel agent Carol Zimny agreed with Clark that it’s too early to tell whether rising air travel costs and gas prices are driving more people onto trains and buses.

“We were expecting the same thing, but so far we haven’t seen it. I think one reason why is that people already had their summer travel plans in place” long before gas prices started approaching $4 a gallon or airlines started dramatically raising fares and fees, Zimny said.

“I think we could really start to tell what kind of an impact this is having during the next round of travel planning at the end of the summer or this fall.”

Tom Fontaine can be reached online at tfontaine@timesonline.com.

DESTINATION: BALTIMORE

Baltimore, less than 300 miles away, is easily reachable by plane, train, automobile or bus. Why go? Steamed crabs, the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Little Italy, Camden Yards and much more. What’s the best way to get there for a weekend getaway? You decide:

PLANE

WHAT: Southwest Airlines flight

WHEN: Departs Pittsburgh at 6:50 a.m. July 11; returns at 8:25 a.m. July 13.

TRIP TIME: Hourlong flight. Trains between Baltimore-Washington International and downtown take about 15 minutes.

TRAVEL COSTS: $143 for the plane ticket. You can take a MARC train from the airport to downtown for $4 when you arrive Friday, but it doesn’t run on weekends. An Amtrak trip back to the airport on Sunday will cost you $12. Total cost: $159.

TRAIN

WHAT: Amtrak

WHEN: Departs Pittsburgh at 5:45 a.m. July 11; returns at 1:45 a.m. July 13.

TRIP TIME: Around 10 hours each way. That includes layovers of 92 minutes on the way there and 100 minutes on the way back at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

TRAVEL COSTS: $127 for the train ticket.

AUTOMOBILE

WHAT: Toyota Camry

WHEN: Leave whenever you want July 11; return whenever you want July 13.

TRIP TIME: About 5 hours each way.

TRAVEL COSTS: The Camry, the best-selling car in America, should average around 30 miles a gallon, meaning you should go through nearly 19 gallons of gas on the 564-mile round trip between Beaver and Baltimore. At $4 a gallon, your fuel bill would be $76 — but who knows how expensive gas will be next month. If you ride on the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Monroeville and Breezewood, your tolls will add up to $13. Total cost: $89.

BUS

WHAT: Greyhound

WHEN: Departs Zelienople at 10:55 a.m. July 11; returns 10:15 a.m. July 13.

TRIP TIME: Just over 8 hours on the way there. Less than 7 1/2 hours on the way back.

TRAVEL COSTS: A three-day advance purchase ticket costs $78.

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To see more of Beaver County Times, Pa., or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesonline.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Beaver County Times, Pa.

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