Oct 25, 2023 - News

Texas travelers turn to luxury buses

Illustration of a SunRunner bus with a velvet rope outside of the doors.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios; Photo: Peter Titmuss/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Luxury bus travel is becoming an increasingly popular mode of transportation for business and leisure travelers, and companies are rapidly expanding to meet demand in Texas.

Why it matters: In a state that relies heavily on highways — and lacks a speedy rail system — expanding bus travel could mean reducing road congestion, pollution and traffic deaths, transportation experts say.

State of play: Luxury bus service Vonlane this fall boosted the number of departures available to its passengers across the state, while charter services platform CharterUP announced Wednesday that it's rolling out hundreds of luxury sprinter vans for smaller groups of travelers across five cities — Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles.

  • Meanwhile, Uber rolled out Uber Charter in Texas last year, while Austin-based Fetii has grown its on-demand group transportation and ride-sharing services locally this year with 15-passenger vehicles.

What they're saying: "We've seen a significant rise in demand for bus transportation in Austin and throughout Texas," CharterUP CEO Armir Harris told Axios. "The rise in bus travel is a driving factor behind our decision to expand our platform to include luxury sprinters."

Between the lines: Much of that growth is thanks to business travelers, Harris says. CharterUP has seen its corporate shuttle program in Austin and San Antonio skyrocket by 280% year over year as employees have returned to the office.

  • "The continued growth of Austin as a prominent technology hub plays a pivotal role, as an increasing number of companies are choosing to expand their operations in the region," he added.
  • A majority of CharterUP's ridership comes from organizations and companies booking group travel, including the University of Texas, Austin ISD and H-E-B.
  • Inc. named CharterUP the second fastest-growing private company in the U.S. for average revenue growth over the last three years.

The intrigue: More options for travel could help Texans rethink how they get across the state, reducing the number of people in single-occupancy vehicles, according to Bill McCamley, executive director of local nonprofit Transit Forward.

  • "The more people you get into these kinds of transit-type options, the less cars you have on the road," McCamley said.

Yes, but: More affordable intercity companies have struggled to rebound since pandemic-era setbacks.

The bottom line: Private companies will never replace public transportation, McCamley added.

  • "These sorts of strategies are wonderful, but we're going to need to provide support for our public transportation infrastructure — both for folks that maybe can't afford these types of things, but also so that when people get to the community they're going to there are public transit options" to get them to their final destination, he said.

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