DePaul University researchers have compared fares across bus, air, train and private vehicle to test the thesis that only a small fare difference exists between the various modes of transportation.
With the rapid proliferation of inter-city bus companies, this sort of information is increasingly vital for both businesses and consumers, with direct multi-modal comparison sites like Rome2rio and booking sites such as Wanderu thriving in this newfound glory.
In fact, Amtrak has posted record numbers while average miles driven by Americans has actually decreased.
The extensive research, available here, reveals how pricing affects demand, and how the operators of different modes of transportation can target advertising to specific trip types - say a particular distance or route.
The researchers looked at the following modes of transportation: conventional and discount bus carriers, intercity rail, Southwest.com and Orbitz.com. Various city-pairs were searched for different departure times, and at a booking window that was 1, 7 and 28 days out.
The key conclusions:
- On average, intercity bus fares are 50-55% lower than on Amtrak and Amtrak fares are priced 55-73% below airline fares.
- Solo-drivers are paying the most, without even considering maintenance costs. Amtrak costs just as much as driving if booked in advance, but last-minute bookings quickly become more expensive for last-minute train fares - especially in the populous Northeast corridor.
- Finding significant savings from overland travel is harder when trip distances exceed 250 miles. Even so, average costs are $41-$69 less even when compared to airfares booked more than 28 days early.
The most important information for those in the business of pricing fares competitively is that travelers are now comparing not only different routes by competitors but also altogether alternative forms of transportation. The ability to determine just which route is the right balance of time and cost efficiency is much easier and offers some marketing opportunities as consumers are browsing fares online.
The full report has a detailed breakdown of the cost between city pairs, and specific regional differences for the modes of transportation and booking windows.