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Intercity bus services see booming business

BY KATIE HEINE | JANUARY 19, 2011 7:10 AM

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Local bus companies say business is good — but the future Iowa City-Chicago rail line could change that.

For now though, bus service is the fastest growing mode of intercity transportation for the third consecutive year, increasing faster than air or rail transit, a DePaul University study found.

In an annual study of America’s intercity transportation, Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University, found intercity bus services grew 6 percent in 2010. The three bus companies providing service in Iowa City —

Megabus.com, Greyhound, and Trailways — agree area business is faring well.

Since Megabus began operating in the area in May 2010, 42,000 have used the option to travel to or from Iowa City.

“The Iowa City location is trending very well so far,” said Dale Moser, president of Megabus.com, a curbside operation that forgoes the traditional use of a station in favor of online ticket sales.

So far, ridership has “exceeded expectations,” he said.

Eugene Hibbs, the independent contractor of the Greyhound and Trailways station in Iowa City, said business has been relatively stable.

“Business is brisk,” Hibbs said. “We’re not immune to the economic downturn, but we’re doing quite well.”

Hibbs said he was unable to release precise information regarding ridership rates.

But Hibbs is also concerned the Amtrak rail could have an effect on business.

“The I-80 corridor is where most of the profit comes from,” said Hibbs. The proposed passenger rail would cover the same route, and could ultimately have a negative effect on the busing industry in the Iowa City area, he said.

The rail is set to be built with a $230 million federal grant, along with $20 million from Iowa and $45 million from Illinois. But while former Gov. Chet Culver enthusiastically endorsed the possibility, Gov. Terry Branstad is re-examining whether Iowa will accept the money.

But until the Amtrak decision is made, bus business will continue as usual, Hibbs said.

“People of all walks of life take the bus,” Hibbs said.

The service has proved useful for out of state students at the University of Iowa.

Rachel Zeitlin, a UI sophomore who doesn’t have a car on campus, has taken Megabus six times within the last two years to and from her home in Gurnee, Ill.

Overall, Zeitlin has had a pleasant experience with Megabus.com.

“The only problem I’ve had is that the check-in process is sort of unorganized,” she said. “When I want to go home, the bus is really my only option.”


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