Are Buses the Future of Texas Travel?
Depending on traffic and what part of each city you’re trying to get to, it takes roughly three hours to get from Dallas to Austin, Austin to Houston, Dallas to Houston, or Houston to San Antonio by car. That’s almost as much time as it takes to fly between most of those cities, when you factor in getting to the airport, parking, taking the shuttle from the parking lot to check-in, getting boarding passes, security screenings, waiting around while they check to make sure that there’s not some kid hiding in the wheel well of the plane, landing, deboarding, walking to baggage claim, etc.
With that in mind, a new bus line launches next month with the intention of competing with airlines like Southwest for business travelers going between—initially, anyway—Austin and Dallas. As the Dallas Morning-News reports:
Tickets will cost $100 each way, and Vonlane will compete primarily with Southwest Airlines, founder and president Alex Danza said.
“Our whole focus is to give productive time back to business travelers,” said Danza, who owns 70 percent of the company along with another main investor. “This is a radically different level of service than you get at Megabus or Greyhound.”
Most full-size buses seat 56 people. Vonlane buses will put a premium on space, offering only 16 seats — and no middle seating.
“For half the cost of air fare, we will give people first-class service,” Danza said.
“Half the cost of air fare” is probably overselling it; tickets between Austin and Dallas on Southwest tend to start at $69 each way, though when one factors in the cost of travel to Austin-Bergstrom or Love Field, it starts to balance out. But the notion that a traveler could have a nicer experience riding on a pleasant bus for three hours, rather than bouncing around airports and crammed on to an airplane holds some validity. That $100 price point means that Vonlane—which aims to provide services in Houston and San Antonio soon—won’t be the transportation provider of choice for students on a budget visiting home, but there are a variety of travelers in Texas, and serving some of their needs relieves some demand for everyone.
More broadly, as travel between the ever-growing cities that make up Texas’ big four becomes increasingly essential, addressing the dearth of good options for different kinds of travel becomes more important. Transportation is a serious challenge in our expanding state, and sixteen seats on a pricey luxury bus is still sixteen cars that won’t be packed onto an already-overcrowded I-35.
Of course, while nice buses for business travelers provide an alternative to choking the highway with more SUV’s—assuming, of course, business travelers manage to overcome any lingering stigma that comes with, ugh, riding the bus—a company like Vonlane is still just providing a patchwork solution to a problem that needs some more permanent consideration. (Also, we’ll hope that Vonlane’s service is more ready-to-go than their website’s image gallery.)
That more permanent solution is the white whale of Texas travelers: high-speed rail, which would cost billions, require a lot of investment from a lot of different entities, and allow people a pleasant (dare we say, European?) experience that could feasibly get them from Houston to Dallas in 90 minutes. That’s long been a dream, and new developments have given aspiring train-riders some fresh hope.
The effort is on a fast track. An environmental impact study has begun, which will help identify the best route and terminal locations. The former Reunion Arena area is expected to be a top candidate for downtown Dallas.
That evaluation is expected to take two to three years. Construction is projected at four to five years, with the goal to start high-speed service by 2021.
We’ll see how all of that shakes out over the next several years—and that’s a project that would unite Dallas and Houston, but not the rest of the state. While all of that develops, though, fancy, high-end buses equipped with hors d’oeuvres and a drinks cart at least offer an alternative for a certain class of traveler who needs to get from city to city.