What's Happening

Bus or Plane Image

July 3, 2020

Megan Ryerson, Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning and Electric and Systems Engineering at the Mobility21 academic partner University of Pennsylvania, provided her input on how to navigate post-COVID19 with Politico magazine with her suggestion, “Replace Short Flights with Buses.”

You’re traveling to a neighboring city, either to visit or to catch a connecting flight. You’re cruising along using the Wi-Fi in a clean seat at least 6 feet from your fellow passengers. You’re relaxed; since departures leave your hometown airport every hour, choosing when to travel was easy. Then, over the loudspeaker you hear a voice: “This is your captain speaking. The bus will be pulling up to the airport momentarily. Terminal A, first stop.”

Now that the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically disrupted air travel, it’s possible to imagine this strange new reality: The future of short-distance air travel may very well be the bus.

With business travel evaporating for the time being, and Americans worried about getting on crowded planes for anything but urgently necessary travel, the aviation industry is reeling. As of April 30, demand for flights from and within the United States had plummeted 95 percent from the year before; it has since held steady at the lowest levels seen since the mid-1950s. Airlines are recording unprecedented losses.

As airlines prepare for their future, they will be looking to cut unprofitable and expensive routes—specifically, those routes under 500 miles that rely on gas-guzzling regional jets. Shorter regional air routes are already so unpopular that airlines won’t serve them without expensive subsidies or direct incentives from a growing number of secondary airports. The economics of short-haul flights will get even worse if airlines choose not to fill their planes, as some are doing.

But Americans still need ways to get from city to city besides driving. Frequently run, comfortable coach bus lines could fill the void. Buses offer higher scheduling flexibility and lower capital costs; a half-filled bus represents much less of a loss than a half-filled plane. Furthermore, increased regional bus use would reduce the number of flights coming into airports—and thus reduce the number of people mingling within airports’ walls, a new and likely enduring safety priority. And while conventional buses might provide a slight fuel consumption savings compared with regional aircrafts, hybrid and electric buses are at least four times more fuel-efficient than regional jets.

To make this shift, airlines need to see themselves—or be required to see themselves as a condition of relief funding—as mobility companies and not only providers of air service. In the same way that cities and the federal government already provide incentives to airlines to fly, future Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding could provide incentives to airlines or startup bus companies to get regional coaches on the road. Now is the time to make a dramatic, long-lasting change in the way we travel: Airlines are being forced to be more flexible, passengers are looking for the safest alternatives, and planners and policymakers should be looking for solutions that meet our mobility, safety and environmental goals going forward.”  Read the full article here.