BUS

Modern luxury motor coach bus.

"Luxury" and "Bus" don't often appear together, but luxury buses do, in fact, exist on a few medium-haul intercity routes. I found a dozen current operators around the country.

To me, the deal-breaker for a luxury bus is one-by-two seating, such as you find in domestic first class on regional planes. And that means 20 to 30 seats in a standard intercity bus that normally holds 50 to 60 seats. Although many other bus companies claim to offer "luxury" service with leather seats and such, they use the usual two-by-two seating, which by my book is never "luxury." True luxury bus services typically offer some combination of additional onboard services:

-- A lavatory

-- Wi-Fi and/or streaming video

-- Snack and beverage service

-- An onboard attendant in addition to the driver

-- Free checked baggage

Luxury buses typically operate nonstop between endpoint terminals, but some longer routes involve intermediate stops. They typically load and unload either at loading zones on public streets or at city-center or airport hotels; they typically do not use regular bus terminals, although a few do at a few stops. Most require advance reservations; most offer modest discounts for online purchase, round trips, and some offer other discounts as well. In some cases, the luxury service operates as a subset of a larger schedule with conventional buses. Luxury bus services are all operated by independent, small lines; Greyhound and Megabus do not compete in this market. And some routes operate seasonally.

1. New York to Washington. Frequent bus service on independent lines between the New York and Washington metro areas has been available for more than a decade. The business started serving ethnic Asian markets but rapidly expanded. In New York, most buses load and unload near Penn Station, although a few also stop at other locations as well. In the Washington area, some serve downtown, typically at DuPont Circle, but others concentrate on suburban Maryland and Virginia stops. Shortest travel times start at four to four and a half hours; trips to/from more remote stops can add an hour or more.

Four lines operate luxury buses in the New York-Washington market: BestBus "Prime, (bestbus.com/pages/prime.aspx), Tripper Bus "Elite," (tripperbus.com/), Vamoose Bus "Gold," (vamoosebus.com/) "Gold," and Washington Deluxe "LUX" (washny.com/index.php). One-way fares are capacity-controlled, starting at around $35 and going as high as $75. The primary value proposition is luxury service at about half the cost of Amtrak, taking only a half hour to an hour more time.

2. Other Northeast. C&J Bus Lines (ridecj.com/) connects Boston and New York with several cities in Eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Concord Coach Lines (concordcoachlines.com/) connects New York with Portland, Maine, and Concord and Nashua New Hampshire. Dartmouth Coach (dartmouthcoach.com/) connects New York with Dartmouth and Lebanon New Hampshire. Hampton Jitney (hamptonjitney.com/) connects New York with the posh eastern Long Island centers. Hampton Luxury Liner (hamptonluxuryliner.com/) has done the same, but it is currently down for the winter. Not all luxury bus lines succeed: LimoLiner, a pioneer between Boston and New York, folder last year. The primary value proposition is comfortable transport in areas with little or no Amtrak service and either no airline service or inconvenient airline schedules.

3. Florida. Red Coach (redcoachusa.com/the-experience/) operates "First Class" services linking Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and Tallahassee. Most routes have no Amtrak service and only indirect air service.

4. Texas. Vonlane (vonlane.com/) operates a luxury bus network connecting Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio. Apparently, this appeals mainly to folks who don't like today's airport hassles or Southwest's close-packed coach product.

5. California. Although not strictly a luxury bus by my definition, Cabin (ridecabin.com) runs mostly-daily overnight round trips between San Francisco and Santa Monica with buses outfitted with private sleeping compartments -- and no conventional seats. Online graphics remind me of old-time Pullman upper berths, with enough room to stretch out flat and little else. But the Southern Pacific's classic overnight Lark all-sleeper train is long gone, so it's the only game in town.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

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